The Creation of Inequality

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The Creation of Inequality

Postby Forest_Dump on August 25th, 2013, 1:21 pm 

I was thinking about posting this in the political section, since it is the kind of thing people like arguing about there but since it is based on recent archaeology. anthropology, etc., instead of older and less accurate political history, I thought it more appropriate here. Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus, two very prominent archaeologists and theorists who are among the most respected scholars of complex Mesoamerican societies, have written a book looking at the evolution of complex societies. "The Creation of Inequality: How Our Prehistoric Ancestors Set the Stage for Monarchy, Slavery and Empire" (2012) uses Rousseau's famous essay on equality as a starting point for discussion but incorporates actual data from ethnography and archaeology to explore the topic of the origins of the political structures we see today. I highly recommend this one if for no other reason than I think it is time to move away from the tired old mythologies of Locke, Hume, Hobbes, Marx, etc., etc.
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby henriette on September 11th, 2013, 3:53 pm 

Two reviews of the book respectively by Jared Diamond in the Montreal Review (http://www.themontrealreview.com/2009/The-Creation-of-Inequality.php) and Sirio Canos i Donnay in the Oxonian Review (http://www.oxonianreview.org/wp/bigger-more-competitive-more-complex/)
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby henriette on September 16th, 2013, 8:21 am 

Dear,

Is not there a myth of equality, generosity and peace in the early hunters and gatherers societies? How indeed can we reconcile that premise with the reported fact of universal cannibalism in very early humans? (e.g. Lindenbaum, THINKING ABOUT CANNIBALISM, Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 33: 475-498, October 2004) : when some humans forage on others, there is deep inequality, is not there? Even in the very small societies, like those within the Tautavel's area more than 300 000 years ago, there were competition, arguably murders and appropriation, thus great inequalities. Then, could the theory proposed by Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus be reconciled with the vision of humans as being naturally violent?

According to the authors, the amount of inequality that has been invented by the dominants seems mainly rely on inheritance, thus with the invention of the family. However the authors do not discuss the emergence of the family and its potential correlation with inequalities, is there one?

Philosopher Cioran argues that the ritual of the sacrifice is at the center of the origin of inequalities, thanatophilia and domination ; he remarks that the symbolic sacrifice of the dominant within the ritual constrains the people to accept the sacrifice of their own real lifes for the established powers, yielding the invention of Love, that here appears to be the key invented tool for inequalities and violence.

A reviewer reports that "Our only social hierarchy would be one of virtue, and we would be led by those who give generously while asking only for respect. The first step toward such a society would be to reverse the changes in logic made by our ancestors" .
Won't it be a more efficient way to temper inequalities to remark that men naturally hate each others so much? Maybe we should then escape from the current naive utopia of democracy that is the possibility of peace from Love.
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby Paralith on October 24th, 2013, 8:56 pm 

I've started reading a sample of this book, and I have to say I'm hooked. Going to have to splurge and buy it, I think. Though I've already come across some theoretical perspectives I'm not sure I agree with, I love how data rich it is and I'm looking forward to learning more details about the groups described in the book. I know the density of the book was a criticism in one of the reviews, but honestly, when I'm looking for a science book to read I quickly grow impatient with too much fluff. The data, delivered in a clear and organized fashion, is what I want.

I came back to this thread to ask you, Forest, if you've completed the book yet, but henriette's post got me thinking. henriette asked if it isn't a myth that traditional foragers are full of equality and peace. My gut response was, no one's saying foragers aren't violent, and by inequality I think the authors mean more specifically resource inequality, which foragers have less of simply due to the economics of their way of living. But then I thought, wait, is that what they mean by inequality? I went back through the parts I've read, the preface, chapter 1, and part of chapter 2. I can't find that the authors stopped and defined what exactly they mean by inequality, exactly what is being measured and compared between these different societies they're going to discuss. I imagine this will become more self evident as they lay out the data, but at the moment I count this lack of definition as a mark against them. Forest, can you speak to this?
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby Forest_Dump on October 26th, 2013, 12:41 pm 

Sorry I have been "off line" a lot lately for a number of reasons but I will try to feed into this a bit now and hopefully more later.

Paralith wrote:I can't find that the authors stopped and defined what exactly they mean by inequality, exactly what is being measured and compared between these different societies they're going to discuss. I imagine this will become more self evident as they lay out the data, but at the moment I count this lack of definition as a mark against them. Forest, can you speak to this?


Actually this is a favorite topic of mine and one I am slowly writing about. There are some standard definitions of what the authors mean by inequality but they seem to want to avoid that topic. The traditional divisions are what I elsewhere distinguish as being between egalitarian societies which have different levels of status based on individual achievement vs. those societies that are "complex" and have differences in status based on ascription or inheritance. The latter manifests itself on differences in inherited political, economic or religious power or authority which becomes oriented around differences in "class", ethnicity or even conceptions of race, all categories people are born into and culturally defined as natural or proper as a kind of justification. If you want a rule of thumb, the authors do discuss egalitarian societies but refer to them as being "achievement-based" while later, more complex societies have inherited differences. Any time inherited differences play a role, whether this be a difference in inherited wealth or property, inherited rights (including citizenship, membership, etc.), then you are dealing with a non-egalitarian society.

Paralith wrote:henriette asked if it isn't a myth that traditional foragers are full of equality and peace. My gut response was, no one's saying foragers aren't violent, and by inequality I think the authors mean more specifically resource inequality, which foragers have less of simply due to the economics of their way of living.


Yes, foragers can be every bit or even more violent and cruel than we like to think major nations are (and having dug up plenty of unambiguous evidence of cannibalism, torture, etc., I can certainly attest to this) but I suppose the difference is that in forager societies it is totally personal while as societies get more complex, people loose their individuality in war. Just think of the millions of memes about the loss of honour in larger scale warfare that became more about conquest, etc., rather than individual prestige. As the authors of the book point out, even in the most egalitarian societies, warfare was a means for individuals to gain prestige and economic gain for themselves. As societies became more complex, warfare became more about political consolidation, prestige for the elite, economic control, etc.

Paralith wrote:I've started reading a sample of this book, and I have to say I'm hooked. Going to have to splurge and buy it, I think. Though I've already come across some theoretical perspectives I'm not sure I agree with, I love how data rich it is and I'm looking forward to learning more details about the groups described in the book. I know the density of the book was a criticism in one of the reviews, but honestly, when I'm looking for a science book to read I quickly grow impatient with too much fluff. The data, delivered in a clear and organized fashion, is what I want.


I am on page 400 or so. I too am impressed with the number and detail of the cross-cultural and archaeological data the authors selected although I note they are better with the more complex societies rather than the egalitarian societies. It would make a good text book for looking at the origins of complexity (inequality). On the other hand, I am a little disappointed at how little theory is in there particularly since they are known to be pretty good on the theory side of things. Not much there on why exactly, more complex societies do appear. Maybe that will come in later but maybe not. It is almost as though they take it as a given that inequality will always emerge. Not sure I agree with that but I have a hard time arguing against it too. Definitely a topic worth a lot more thought.
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby BadgerJelly on October 26th, 2013, 1:08 pm 

This sounds like an interesting book. I am always wary to say our ancestors were more or less violent than we are today. I think there have been better times and worse times dependent upon location as well as time.

I think it has been mentioned by someone here, Paralith? "Resource" management is what causes conflicts and inequality. I can imagine times in the distant past where resources were aplenty and others times where they were not.

One thing that does strike me though about cannibalism and human sacrifice, is that to us it may seem barbaric, but in the time and circumstance they may have been considered very humane acts.

Correct me if I wrong. Did the Aztecs not select people for sacrifice from birth and treat them like princes until they were 18 and ready to be sacrificed? Cannot for the life of me remember where I heard this? Does it hold any truth or is it just on of those rumours that have been passed around and taken as a truth?
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby moranity on October 26th, 2013, 1:46 pm 

Hi Badger,
It was the Incas that did this for the children they sacrificed. These are found preserved as mummies in high altitude lakes. I read a great paper on it all, i shall see if i can find it...http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1017&context=jca . It is worth a read in my opinion.
Theres this bit in "The Golden Bough" where the author talks of sacrificial kings in matriarchal societies before civilisation really took off, at the time i read this, i took it for true, but now i'm wondering if the guy had any evidence at all for such conjectures.
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby Venus on October 26th, 2013, 1:53 pm 

Forest_Dump wrote: I think it is time to move away from the tired old mythologies of Locke, Hume, Hobbes, Marx, etc., etc.

Why do you think they are mythologies and second do you think that new is always better?
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby BadgerJelly on October 26th, 2013, 3:42 pm 

Wasn't that Moranity. It was Aztec and they were allowed to have children by many women before they were used in a sacrifice.

Like I've said, it may be rubbish. Cannot for the life of me remember where I heard this or read this. Was some time ago :S

Thanks anyway.
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby moranity on October 26th, 2013, 3:45 pm 

Ah i sorta misread what ya wrote, that is definitely different from what i posted.
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby Forest_Dump on October 26th, 2013, 5:04 pm 

Hmmm. A bunch of tidbits.

BadgerJelly wrote:Correct me if I wrong. Did the Aztecs not select people for sacrifice from birth and treat them like princes until they were 18 and ready to be sacrificed? Cannot for the life of me remember where I heard this? Does it hold any truth or is it just on of those rumours that have been passed around and taken as a truth?


Probably true for some of the sacrifices of the Aztecs, Incans, Mayans, as well as elsewhere. But they also sacrificed criminals, people of lower status picked at random or because of birth defects, etc. But the most common sacrifices were people from conquered areas and war captives. In fact, the Aztecs were known for their "flowery wars" which were faught solely to kill enough people or have enough captives taken by all sides for the purposes of sacrifices. Marvin Harris argued that the reason why the Aztecs had such huge wars merely to kill off people was because the bodies didn't go to waste but were cannibalized and that was because otherwise there was meat and protein shortages in that region (i.e., not enough dogs, deer, turkey etc., around) and eating "soylent green" was a solution.

moranity wrote:Theres this bit in "The Golden Bough" where the author talks of sacrificial kings in matriarchal societies before civilisation really took off, at the time i read this, i took it for true, but now i'm wondering if the guy had any evidence at all for such conjectures.


Frazer's Golden Bough was certainly an important contribution and an early example of cross-cultural comparison, etc., and certainly even set up a lot of the vocabulary, etc. still in use. But that was the late 19th century and neither he nor the "profession" had really gotten around to going out and actually studying the people they were talking about. We have since learned that going out and actually studying people helps.

Venus wrote:Forest_Dump wrote:
I think it is time to move away from the tired old mythologies of Locke, Hume, Hobbes, Marx, etc., etc.
Why do you think they are mythologies and second do you think that new is always better?


Pretty much as above. Those guys lived hundreds of years ago and were pretty good thinkers before there was much known about the world outside their borders and mind sets. We have learned a lot over the past few hundred years and we have certainly learned that many of the things those guys took for granted are not really true. Like I said, if you want any kind of social theory that is going to work for more than a few cities of the world, it is best to base that on at least some of the stuff we have learned about history, evolution, etc. You would read Galileo to learn about nuclear physics would you? So why would you read Locke or Hume to find out what people are all about?
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby Forest_Dump on October 26th, 2013, 5:16 pm 

henriette wrote:when some humans forage on others, there is deep inequality, is not there?


Yeah, just to be clear, nobody ever said all people are really equal. Some are born differently than others and that means that not everyone is going to thrive in any society. Sometimes in these societies gender is a big factor, age commonly, etc. The inequality talked about here is what you could call class inequality or ethnic inequality, perhaps even racial inequality, etc.

henriette wrote:thus with the invention of the family. However the authors do not discuss the emergence of the family and its potential correlation with inequalities, is there one?


Might be something relevant here but I am not sure what exactly. Families definitely predate anything we are talking about here but there are/were all kinds of families so there might be a correlation to consider here but I am not sure what that would be.

henriette wrote:Won't it be a more efficient way to temper inequalities to remark that men naturally hate each others so much? Maybe we should then escape from the current naive utopia of democracy that is the possibility of peace from Love.


Seems a bit too simplistic to me but I would like to see what happens if you start to think through and develope some of the ideas here. But "men naturally hate each other" seems just a bit too trite and simplistic. It also doesn't give us much to work toward other than a classic shrug and dismissal as its "not my fault - it is in the genes".
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby Venus on October 26th, 2013, 5:31 pm 

Forest_Dump wrote:So why would you read Locke or Hume to find out what people are all about?

Comparing John Locke and David Hume with Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus.
Priceless!
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby moranity on October 26th, 2013, 5:58 pm 

Hi Forest,
is there any evidence for "the goldern bough" author's assertion that male parentage was seen as unimportant in early societies? If i remember right, his main reason for stating this was that the male role in baby creation is not obvious, especially when everyone is just having sex without monogomous ties. I'm told that the celtic societies passed inheritance on down the matriachal line and, in the UK, it was Saxon rule that changed that situation. For definite, woman played a much more equal role in celtic cultures than in Saxon culture, for instance the greatest teacher of combat was a woman, be she a real person, or just a myth, still, this supports the idea that women were seen as equals... although, what do we know about celtic culture? just what Julius Caeser said, and recorded events that involved the romans... and a few other bits and pieces.
Passing property down on the female side is probably sensible in a warrior society.
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby Paralith on October 26th, 2013, 7:02 pm 

Venus wrote:
Forest_Dump wrote:So why would you read Locke or Hume to find out what people are all about?

Comparing John Locke and David Hume with Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus.
Priceless!


Venus, I think you mistake Forest's meaning. Locke and Hume are, undoubtedly, great philosophical minds and many aspects of their work are and will continue to be important and relevant for modern thinkers. But Locke and Hume were not anthropologists or archaeologists any more than Flannery and Marcus are philosophers. Locke and Hume had certain opinions on human behavior and society which, simply put, are not nearly as empirically informed as modern day scientists whose focus of study is human behavior and society. Not that anyone's faulting them for that either - they were going on the accepted knowledge of their time. But that knowledge has changed since their time. Forest isn't suggesting that you forgo Locke and Hume in favor of Marcus and Flannery if you're looking for good philosophy. He's suggesting you forgo them if you're looking for a good and current approach to understanding human behavior and more particularly the emergence of inequality in human societies.
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby Forest_Dump on October 27th, 2013, 10:25 am 

Paralith wrote:Venus, I think you mistake Forest's meaning. Locke and Hume are, undoubtedly, great philosophical minds and many aspects of their work are and will continue to be important and relevant for modern thinkers. But Locke and Hume were not anthropologists or archaeologists any more than Flannery and Marcus are philosophers. Locke and Hume had certain opinions on human behavior and society which, simply put, are not nearly as empirically informed as modern day scientists whose focus of study is human behavior and society. Not that anyone's faulting them for that either - they were going on the accepted knowledge of their time. But that knowledge has changed since their time. Forest isn't suggesting that you forgo Locke and Hume in favor of Marcus and Flannery if you're looking for good philosophy. He's suggesting you forgo them if you're looking for a good and current approach to understanding human behavior and more particularly the emergence of inequality in human societies.


I have to agree with Paralith but I would say that I try to be even less Eurocentric and bound by the thinking of centuries ago. As I said, people like Locke and Hume were great thinkers for their time and place but were bound by what they knew at the time and that was pretty limited to Europe. They knew virtually nothing about entire continents of other people including some extraordinary civilizations. To be honest, I think Bishop Usher could be included in that list for his calculations of the age of the earth and creation at 4004 BC. IMHO, not bad for 1650. But we have learned an awful lot since and even though his work was pretty much in the scrap heap 150 years later (i.e., by 1800) we tend to put him down because there are some dreary creationists who ignore all that we have learned in the past few centuries. But if we are going to seriously try to learn about social historyand the evolution of complex societies, we must take into account the archaeology and ethnology of the 20th century. To not do so would be like trying to understand evolution without taking into account fossils and genetics. Linneaus too was a great thinker but science has not stopped since his time and he is a bit dated too.
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby Forest_Dump on October 27th, 2013, 10:30 am 

moranity wrote:is there any evidence for "the goldern bough" author's assertion that male parentage was seen as unimportant in early societies? If i remember right, his main reason for stating this was that the male role in baby creation is not obvious, especially when everyone is just having sex without monogomous ties. I'm told that the celtic societies passed inheritance on down the matriachal line and, in the UK, it was Saxon rule that changed that situation. For definite, woman played a much more equal role in celtic cultures than in Saxon culture, for instance the greatest teacher of combat was a woman, be she a real person, or just a myth, still, this supports the idea that women were seen as equals... although, what do we know about celtic culture? just what Julius Caeser said, and recorded events that involved the romans... and a few other bits and pieces.
Passing property down on the female side is probably sensible in a warrior society.


Again and for the same reasons as above, Frazer was very limited in the knowledge he had available to study from. Additionally, I would say we all aknowledge the difficulty in extending that kind of argument into the past. Knowledge and belief about procreation was very variable and definitely not correlated well with ideas about the family or kinship systems. And as far as being warriors goes, it is a difficult argument to make as to whether matrilineal or patrilineal societies are or were more warlike, etc.
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby BadgerJelly on November 7th, 2013, 7:51 am 

Just a little extract, "Prehistory: The Making of the Human Mind", Colin Renfrew.

Various ethnographic and ethnoarchaeological studies have emphasised how the internal structuring and arrangement of domestic dwellings is shaped by and also shapes the social relations within the family and the community. As Gaston Bachelard has remarked in The Poetics of Space (1964): "for our house is our corner of the world. As has often been said it is our first universe, a real cosmos in every sense of the word."
The domestication of animals reared by one group will usually be theirs to exploit and slaughter - their property. Here the accumulation of wealth becomes an obvious possibility. The way is open also to the appropriation of property and to differentiation in terms of property: roots of inequality.

... Property is itself one of those special concepts discussed in chapter 6 (like weight and value) that are at once symbolic and material, and whose material nature is constitutive of the institutional fact.


I am getting ahead of myself here because in a chapter or two he does go onto discuss "The substance of Inequality". I'll be back :)
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby Forest_Dump on November 7th, 2013, 8:51 am 

It is certainly one of the most popular topics archaeologists address. "Households" are also a big topic since we find them a lot and I took a graduate seminar on them (I think my paper was on the NW coast of North America but can't remember). On that, there was a great book by Blanton on households but there are many out there and I would also recommend some material by Susan Kent if you are seriously interested.

As to this one, I have to admit that I am getting bogged down by Mesopotamia and Uruk (never liked cities) but I did get a lot from the discussion on ancient Egypt.
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby BadgerJelly on November 7th, 2013, 10:08 am 

One thing that has struck me already about ideas of value and inequality in relation to material goods is Renfrew's apparent assumption that inequality is linked to material value systems.

I am not convinced that neolithic societies were egalitarian just because the items in burials were pretty much the same for each individual. It could be that value was just not really associated, to a large extent, with material items. Individuals could still have been of a higher "status" without the need for material symbols. There presence could have been their "symbol" of value. The "wiseman", "witch", "shaman", or "soothsayer" may have had influence that didn't require material objects.
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby Forest_Dump on November 7th, 2013, 3:00 pm 

The problem many people have with the topic of inequality, egalitarianism, etc., is that NO society lacks status differences. They ALL have differences in status based on differences in individuals such as those you describe. What we are talking about here is when these differences are INHERITED so people are born into classes, castes, categories, etc., that constrain them for the rest of their lives. It is about INHERITANCE and that means there has to be something that is inherited which is probably why Renfrew refers to material things because these (i.e., land, wealth objects, physical symbols like crowns, etc.) can be passed down from one generation to the next.
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby Paralith on November 7th, 2013, 3:10 pm 

Forest_Dump wrote:The problem many people have with the topic of inequality, egalitarianism, etc., is that NO society lacks status differences. They ALL have differences in status based on differences in individuals such as those you describe. What we are talking about here is when these differences are INHERITED so people are born into classes, castes, categories, etc., that constrain them for the rest of their lives. It is about INHERITANCE and that means there has to be something that is inherited which is probably why Renfrew refers to material things because these (i.e., land, wealth objects, physical symbols like crowns, etc.) can be passed down from one generation to the next.


Great post Forest.
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby BadgerJelly on November 7th, 2013, 3:16 pm 

Forest_Dump wrote:The problem many people have with the topic of inequality, egalitarianism, etc., is that NO society lacks status differences. They ALL have differences in status based on differences in individuals such as those you describe. What we are talking about here is when these differences are INHERITED so people are born into classes, castes, categories, etc., that constrain them for the rest of their lives. It is about INHERITANCE and that means there has to be something that is inherited which is probably why Renfrew refers to material things because these (i.e., land, wealth objects, physical symbols like crowns, etc.) can be passed down from one generation to the next.


I see what he means from reading on a little more. I was jumping the gun a little. I still think that inheritance of knowledge is a factor that needs to be considered. The passing on of certain techniques or knowledge of the environment could easily be used to build up a social inequality based on inheritance. I cannot see this kind of inheritance being as prominent but it would surely be a factor worth considering.

What is the term used for this in anthropology?
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby Forest_Dump on November 7th, 2013, 4:30 pm 

BadgerJelly wrote:I still think that inheritance of knowledge is a factor that needs to be considered. The passing on of certain techniques or knowledge of the environment could easily be used to build up a social inequality based on inheritance. I cannot see this kind of inheritance being as prominent but it would surely be a factor worth considering.

What is the term used for this in anthropology?


Passing down information is, in fact, very important. But the difference between knowledge and material things is that the latter is limited in nature (i.e., there can be only one royal crown) and usually is relatively permanent while knowledge can be given to anyone and everyone willing (and/or perhaps eligible) to listen (BTW thereby violating the Hardy-Weinberg (?) principle). But a key point is that even in the most basic, egalitarian system, elders tend to be respected precisely for these reasons and they act as reference libraries for how to deal with year to year changes in the environment etc. (i.e., they might remember a time 40 years ago when resources were scarce but such and such could be found way over there or that so and so was actually kin who might be counted on for some meat, etc.). A key here is elders too old to hunt or gather, etc., are often then the ones who teach the kids when the adults are off hunting, etc. But 1) it is tough to argue that they would teach only kids in their kinship lines; 2) as we should all know, you can recite information verbatum but learning and interpretation of the most solid kinds of information has a high tendency to "mutate" uncontrollably.
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby BadgerJelly on November 8th, 2013, 5:18 am 

In Renfrew's words :

"To make such long-distance comparisons in space and time may be to tumble into the pitful of rather simplistic ethnographic analogy."

Inequality could simply sprout from a disembodiment of "sense of self" within a larger population. Within a smaller community the self has a more obvious existence than within a larger community. In simply terms it could be that our need, or want, to relate to each other is put under immense pressure in large societies leading to a lack of self worth that is balanced by social competition to instill a greater sense of self value. In a small group your input is of greater import than in a larger group. Also relationships are much easier and intimate in smaller groups. Value (or "usefulness") of self is what you can do within your community. Competition could maybe arise with a conflict of self value?

The way I am seeing things is that the rise of inequality comes about because of psychological factors that impress upon the human sense of self within a larger group. The "team" numbers are too big, or "too many cooks" ... something along those lines.
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby psionic11 on November 18th, 2013, 11:12 am 

Paralith wrote:
Forest_Dump wrote:The problem many people have with the topic of inequality, egalitarianism, etc., is that NO society lacks status differences. They ALL have differences in status based on differences in individuals such as those you describe. What we are talking about here is when these differences are INHERITED so people are born into classes, castes, categories, etc., that constrain them for the rest of their lives. It is about INHERITANCE and that means there has to be something that is inherited which is probably why Renfrew refers to material things because these (i.e., land, wealth objects, physical symbols like crowns, etc.) can be passed down from one generation to the next.


Great post Forest.


I think this is a key distinction as well. The concept of equality and trying to determine what exactly constitutes egalitarian versus non-egalitarian is about as clear, defined, and conclusive as a medieval scholastic argument on "substance"...

But by explicitly mentioning INHERITANCE, we suddenly have a clarifying point from which a multitude of consequences can be examined and evidence provided for. Inheritance can be traced in royal families, and can be found to be the root cause of many power struggles, at least in European history. The grave goods and buried treasures with Pharaohs are made more clear given an inheritance perspective. Inheritance creates a surplus, and resource hoarding is the epitome of non-egalitarianism.

I read the Montreal Review of the book. I'm still left with a bad taste in my mouth from one of the main premises it claims mankind had before 15,000 years ago: that surplus is evil...?!

Here are some typical principles of hunter-gatherer logic: There is an invisible life force within us. Certain spirits, places, and objects are sacred. Individuals differ in virtue. Generosity is a virtue; hoarding or creating surpluses is selfish.


I find it hard to imagine human progress or civilization without some form of surplus, whether it be food, time, labor, material, or knowledge. Otherwise, we'd be about as egalitarian as a herd of wandering gazelle or the scavenging lone raccoon. Non-egalitarianism itself is not a bad thing. Human suffering is, but life is not inherently fair. Fortunately we are rational enough to attempt to counter some unfairness, despite those intent on capitalizing on it...
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby Forest_Dump on November 19th, 2013, 9:50 pm 

psionic11 wrote:I find it hard to imagine human progress or civilization without some form of surplus, whether it be food, time, labor, material, or knowledge. Otherwise, we'd be about as egalitarian as a herd of wandering gazelle or the scavenging lone raccoon. Non-egalitarianism itself is not a bad thing.


Lots of stuff to debate in this stuff but, as a kind of devil's advocate, if you were a strict believer in neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory, where does "progress" ever fit in? "Progress" is purely a subjective assessment against some kind of metric. Isn't any definition of progress ultimately biased towards some racial, ethnic or other agenda?
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby psionic11 on November 23rd, 2013, 12:50 pm 

Forest_Dump wrote:
psionic11 wrote:I find it hard to imagine human progress or civilization without some form of surplus, whether it be food, time, labor, material, or knowledge. Otherwise, we'd be about as egalitarian as a herd of wandering gazelle or the scavenging lone raccoon. Non-egalitarianism itself is not a bad thing.


Lots of stuff to debate in this stuff but, as a kind of devil's advocate, if you were a strict believer in neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory, where does "progress" ever fit in? "Progress" is purely a subjective assessment against some kind of metric. Isn't any definition of progress ultimately biased towards some racial, ethnic or other agenda?


Very true, progress is a metric. It is measured against against a set of goals, or else as a set of transitions from one complex set of states to some other desirable set of states. The "desire" part can be racially or ethnically or politically or religiously or scientifically or personally motivated. The fact that there is some kind of direction to it implies an underlying valuation to it as well. And as we know, value is largely arbitrary. (Of course, once a value system is established, it is subject to its own internal tendencies which are not as arbitrary anymore.)

But to be clear, I apply evolutionary theory to biology (specifically genetics). Not so much to human culture. Why would NDT be overly useful to such an overarching set of abstractions like "culture"? Using NDT in this way, to me, is another case of wishful thinking and a categorical error. Analogies and models are useful up to a point, but I like to not conflate the map with the territory.

And so, progress is different from progression. Progress is measured against goals or valuations; progression is simply the extant changes that are observed, with or without accompanying evaluation. We can trace the evolutionary progression of plants and animals. We can document the progression of continents using the theory of plate tectonics. We can witness the progression of culture, or also the progress of culture, but neither that observed progression nor its evaluated "progress" is accurately within the domain of NDT-evolutionary theory. Apples and oranges.

Or, more accurately, memes and genes. One is comprehensively explained by NDT, the other, not.
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby BadgerJelly on December 3rd, 2013, 11:37 am 

I love to hate Dawkins so I have to post this:

For that reason I feel that he attempt by British evolutionary theorist Richard Dawkins to introduce into discussion the term "meme", in analogy with the term "gene", is a misguided one. It suggests a perspective where the mechanisms of growth and development of "cultural evolution" (if one calls them that) are fundamentally analogous to those of biological evolution, so long as one is willing to change one or two points of detail and to substitute the notion of meme for that of gene. That creates a simplistic mechanism that is just not appropriate. - Prehistory: The making of the human mind, Renfrew (p105)
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Re: The Creation of Inequality

Postby mtbturtle on February 5th, 2014, 11:48 am 

How can the presence of sexism in hunter gather/achievement based farmer societies be considered egalitarian? If woman were not consider as virtuous as men isn't this a hereditary (you are born that way) aspect?
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