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How Our Ancient Human Nature Influences Politics Today

(About a 5 minute read)

In light of recent fossil discoveries in Morocco. it now seems true that our noble and esteemed species of fur-challenged, poo-flinging super-apes is at least 300,000 years old.

By most scientific accounts, we spent almost all of that vast time evolving to live in small, remarkably egalitarian, social groups of typically about 200 or so individuals.

Not only is the evidence conclusive that our own species was always a social animal living in groups, but it is nearly just as conclusive that the parents of our species, and their parents, and their parents — and so forth — were all social species going back for up to 20 million years.

All of which almost necessarily means that we have spent “considerable” time evolving, adapting, to cooperate with, and even to depend on each other, for our survival.

But it goes even further than that. Much further.

Not only are we a social animal, but it appears we are also a fiercely egalitarian social animal.  Yet if we were a fiercely egalitarian animal, then why were we so egalitarian?

Apparently, our ancestors were ever alert to someone among them rising up to a position that he could threaten the freedoms of the others.  In other words, we were egalitarian in order to keep ourselves from being dominated by someone or some group.  As the cultural anthropologist, Christopher Boehm explained it:

My argument also followed [Richard] Lee’s insights, but in an evolutionary direction. The premise was that humans are innately disposed to form social dominance hierarchies similar to those of the African great apes, but that prehistoric hunter-gatherers, acting as moral communities, were largely able to neutralize such tendencies–just as extant hunter-gatherers do.

The ethnographic basis for that hypothesis was that present-day foragers apply techniques of social control in suppressing both dominant leadership and undue competitiveness. . . In 1993, I published the principal results of my continuing survey of forager and tribal egalitarians. With respect to both the hunter-gathers and the tribesmen in my sample, the hypothesis was straightforward: such people are guided by a love of personal freedom.

For that reason they manage to make egalitarianism happen, and do so in spite of human competitiveness–and in spite of innate human tendencies to dominance and submission that easily lead to the formation of social dominance hierarchies.

So the ultimate reason we do not see pronounced hierarchies among the people living in hunter/gatherer bands is because those people cherish their freedom — perhaps even to an extent we ourselves do not.

For all that can be said in support of the notion that we are an inherently social species it is absolutely crucial here to recognize that we are also — at the same time — an inherently individualist species!  As Einstein once put it:

Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being. As a solitary being, he attempts to protect his own existence and that of those who are closest to him, to satisfy his personal desires, and to develop his innate abilities. As a social being, he seeks to gain the recognition and affection of his fellow human beings, to share in their pleasures, to comfort them in their sorrows, and to improve their conditions of life.

Now something quite strange began happening about 5,500 years ago — and first on the sweltering plains of Sumer. We started to organize ourselves into complex societies with largely hereditary hierarchies. Things we now call, “civilizations”.

Gawds! That was such a mistake in so very many ways! Ways too many to get into here, except for one, an extraordinarily significant one: We traded  freedom and egalitarianism in order to have social, political, and economic classes. In the most basic sense, just two classes: Elites and commoners, rulers and ruled, rich and poor.

Ever since, our noble and esteemed species of super-adept spear-chuckers has been embroiled in nearly constant — although often purposely obscured and hidden — “war” between the two classes.

It runs through all of civilized history — through every civilization — like a powerful, mostly subterranean river that so many of us do not know is there until one day it boils up in violent rebellions, great revolutions, causing even the most blind to gain the sight to see it.

Typically, the elites have on their side wealth, power, authority, armies, governments, and so forth. The commoners, on the other hand, have the masses, the great majority of people.

But the odds are always stacked in favor of the elites for they also typically have the two greatest advantages of all: Clear insight into what’s going on, combined with the means to obscure and hide those realities from most of us largely via “smoke and mirrors”.

For instance, it still comes as news to many of us when we read Warren Buffett’s statement,  “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

In America, the elites are split into two parties, and there can be relatively minor, but still important ways in which one party or the other favors policies that benefit non-elites.  Yet, that should not be allowed to obscure the fact that the most basic of social, political, and economic divisions is that between elites and non-elites, rather than between elites and other elites.

It’s my contention that if you do not understand how the conflict between elites and non-elites has unfolded over the past 5,500 years, you do not understand history.  And if you do not understand history, you do not understand current events.

Comments? Questions? Derisive snorts? Cute pics of your children or grandchildren? Touching memories of the very first time you stuck a snowball down the back of my shirt?

How did society get divided into elites and non-elites?  Here’s one possible answer.

20 thoughts on “How Our Ancient Human Nature Influences Politics Today”

  1. Quote: “Now something quite strange began happening about 5,500 years ago — and first on the sweltering plains of Sumer. We started to organize ourselves into complex societies with largely hereditary hierarchies. Things we now call, “civilizations”.” What about the Gobekli Tepe civilization predating Sumer by 4000 years, or so I read? I ask this because one must wonder the great “WHY” of any top down hierarchical system taking root. Was it due to violent change in terms of survival? The creation of armies to defend, or attack, which required a more authoritarian system of governance? What caused civilization? Was there some “great interference (as in manipulated or forced regime change) in the way things were then done? That’s my question.


    1. Good questions! Gobekli Tepe is pre-agricultural and does not show signs of being a hierarchical civilization. It could have been, but there’s little evidence of it.

      Sumer, on the other hand has a permanent, more or less fixed elite from about 5,500 years onward. What makes it possible? Agricultural surplus.

      Sumer is a post-agricultural civilization. There is enough food that some people, a minority, are now freed from the necessity of having to work every day to eat — they can eat off the labor of other people. So the key to civilization was for someone — or some group — to realize that the surplus of food being produced by agriculture could be translated into an elite class of people who don’t need to work.


      1. Interesting. Could that have been the beginnings of capitalism also? They had to have invented some means to coax the growers to part with their bounty, at least until they got strong enough to force the issue as it is mostly done today.


      2. Sha’Tara, I’m planning to post in a day or so on what I believe are the reasons people gave up their freedoms to support a fixed hierarchy. I hope you will enjoy the post.


  2. I learned a lot from this. Our book club just discussed a book set circa the Cultural Revolution in China and the role of the elitist was one of the topics discussed. While reviled by the State publicly they were also revered enough to be just above the government’s propaganda.


    1. That’s quite interesting, Gina. I had no idea the elites were “just above the government’s propaganda” during the Cultural Revolution. Do you recall who these elites were? What sort of occupations they had?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. They were from old families with power and money, a little ironic I would think as the Communist party was trying to in doctrine an ideology different from what party leaders were actually living daily. Most of them we researched and discussed held major positions in the Party and their families enjoyed “privileges” by association.


      2. Well Singledust, imagine that the whole “communist” revolution was one massive false flag operation? What if it was fully supported and endorsed by the Western ruling capitalists (the real ones, not the priests, bankers, politicians or the military, they being the puppets) in a long term view of how capitalism would engender consumerism, first in the West, then in the “communist” countries and the only way that could work was through the sheeple accepting capitalism as the way forward? If we look at history, we know that the elites, even when severely curtailed as during the guillotine days of the French revolution, always return to rule, or as in England even if they allow a pretend democracy to pretend ruling they remain in power, super rich, and a force to contend with since they can gain the support of the sheeple in one moment with the wave of a hand, by having their face in the Money and their title accompanying religious rites? The elites will rule, that’s their purpose. They’re in on all the doings of whatever politicians and political “parties” makes the headlines, yes, even in North Korea. Only when the elites are seriously challenged and cut off of government and banking doings will there be a counter revolution to put them back in power. How many Earthian revolutionaries died violent deaths because they discovered the real power of the elites and made the “bad” choice to cut off their tentacles into the blood stream of the general population? Whenever and wherever, the elites rule… by divine decree. Only when Earthians realize this truth will they be able to understand how to overthrow them. And therein lies a story of very many pages, all of it written in the blood of martyrs and innocents alike.


      3. That is fascinating! It puts me in mind of a study done a couple years ago of an Italian community that found the same families had been on top for 600 years!

        Thank you so much for that, Gina!


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  4. This post is deserving of a lot more attention than I – being embroiled in poetry – am likely to consciously give it. But it will soak in, putting more fire in my belly, adding to my already rich vein of frustration over the battle between the elite and their would-be whipping-boys (oops-a-daisy. I made a blooper. I forgot we’re in the twenty-first century now. Should that be whipping persons?). I like to read the history behind our total disregard for the future of this planet. Elite = capitalist. Capitalism ignores the bigger picture.

    Today, I’m enjoying clichés.


    1. Unfortunately, we’re not likely to ever go back to the time of hunting/gathering groups — unless some of us survive a nuclear war. Barring that, the question becomes how we can manage to live with them. And that’s quite a question, if you ask me!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s where we differ. There was a time I did too. But then I got to thinking about dealing with nuclear winter, roving bands of cannibals, etc. Today, I’m glad I live in the shadow of Cheyenne Mountain, where NORAD is. The NORAD command center is most likely the first thing that will get hit in the US — and by multiple warheads. I’ll be gone long before I can worry about what’s coming next.


  5. Fascinating! That our egalitarianism pre-civilisation prevented those who would take away their freedoms. And this makes sense, we all want our freedom. While it is unfortunate that when civilisation and thus social classes were invented, i don’t think it a wholly bad thing, but more like how the agricultural and industrial revolutions changed things for both the better and worse. You could say that our freedom is our topmost priority and that civilisation is mutually exclusive, but civilisation has done a great many good things for us. Our technological achievements (in my view) could not have existed without civilisation as it is a large collective consciousness of people that profit (and extort) from each other.

    If i were given a chance to live in an egalitarian society of hunter gatherers, yes it would probably be “utopic” in that everyone has an equally important task and have a wide range of freedoms to be deliciously selected from. But no, i would not take the offer. All in all there is a trade-off for everything, both in human inventions and biology.


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