Farming and the Origins of Hierarchy

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Daniel Bitton:

"Now, when we get to farming, the conditions that we see in immediate return hunting societies which equalize everyone’s bargaining power, and which make egalitarianism the most stable choice, change, in ways that make hierarchy easier to impose, while making equality harder and harder to maintain. If your economy is based on territory and you manage monopolize access to that territory, then boom you have power over others – hierarchy.

And this is true for anyone not just farmers – which is why we see so much hierarchy among hunter gatherer societies whose economies are based on fishing territories, like the Pacific Northwest Coast people or the Calusa who lived in southern florida.

Once farming has been around long enough and population densities in the surrounding areas increase such that there’s less room to escape from people who dominate productive territories, we see completely different dynamics and social structures arising with more and more hierarchy.

And Graeber and Wengrow talk all about the right to escape over and over, but they talk about it as if it’s a choice that you put in your constitution at some democratic occupy assembly that isn’t being sabotaged by upper middle class rich kids, instead of something that is determined by the facts around you.

With all of this in mind, the reason that it’s so idiotic for Steven Pinker to try to use the Yanomami or Otzi the bog man to illustrate the conditions that we evolved in, is that the Yanomami and Otzi were farmers not foragers.

The ways of life of the Yanomami or Otzi and the material conditions and constraints and incentives associated with them did not exist on planet earth for the first several hundred thousand years of our existence. Like at least talk about warlike hunter gatherer societies like the Haida or the Calusa if you want to make that kind of argument, duh.

Now the Yanomami example might not be useful in terms of understanding our origins, but it can teach us a lot about why some cultures are so violent and get stuck in an endless cycle of wars and feuds with proud martial cultures – which is something you see often among certain pastoralist and horticultural societies – think of the ancient hebrews, or the beduin, or ancient sparta and athens. And it’s useful to contrast these examples with the dynamics of immediate return foragers societies who rarely engage in any extended feuding or warfare at all."


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