Brooks on hunter-gatherers and egalitarianism


Jason Collins


September 24, 2011

Fitting nicely with my recent post on human nature and libertarianism, Rob Brooks has the following to say on the mega-rich and people’s sense of fairness:

Hunter-gatherers keep their neighbours and tribe-mates in line. When everybody depends on everyone else, then reputation rules. You simply can’t afford to be selfish, whether by failing to share or by freeloading, in a small community. Your allies will desert you. …

Where our early ancestors kept one another honest, elites in hierarchical societies tend to socialise with other elites who are equally self-interested in maintaining their own power. The mega-rich don’t hang out with wage-earners, preferring to mix with politicians, media moguls and millionaire televangelists. …

I would never suggest that flat egalitarianism is desirable, but societies in which wealth is spread more equitably experience less violence, better health, lower stress and greater happiness than highly inequitable societies. Which is why everybody has a duty to criticise opulence and ridicule greed rather than fantasising about making the BRW Rich Lists.

I’ll post some detailed thoughts on hunter-gatherer society and egalitarianism in the future (Andrew’s recent post at Evolvify also requires a post or two). In the meantime, I have one question - why should I care about these elites?

I care that the mega-rich influence government - Rob’s example of the mix of politicians and media moguls is particularly relevant. But from a hunter-gather perspective, the mega-rich are more like a distant tribe than part of any group of which I am a member. They don’t want to hang out with me, and they don’t form part of my circle of kin, friends or neighbours. It is only through modern media that I know who these people are. So should I want to cut them down to size just because they are rich? Or is it their ability to project that wealth that should be the subject of concern?