How did we grow from Egalitarianism to Plutocracy?
Bands of 5 to about 80 individuals generally comprised the social grouping in primitive human societies. We find this sort of social grouping presently in our closest non human relatives such as gorillas and chimpanzees. These human groups were normally “egalitarian” in structure in that there would ordinarily be a leader who was often followed but each member fit into a structure within that society wherein each member maintained equality with respect to social, political, and economic rights and privileges.
These bands slowly morphed into tribal structures, which typically contained hundreds of individuals. The tribe held many family groups, called clans, and they were normally fixed in place rather than being nomadic. The tribe held land in common, everyone knew everyone else. Just as bands these tribal groupings maintained an “egalitarian” system of governance. Information and decisions were spread across the whole group. While there was a “big man” he had no independent decision making authority. The “big man” obtained his status through achievement and not through inheritance. The tribe had no bureaucracy.
“Band organization is often described as “egalitarian”: there is no formalized social stratification into upper and lower classes, no formalized hereditary leadership, and no formalized monopolies of information and decision making.”
Bands shaded into tribes and tribes into chiefdoms. Through the year 1500 AD chiefdoms were still spread over much of the land now called the USA. Chiefdoms ranged in populations from several thousand to several tens of thousands. The rise of chiefdoms started about 7500 years ago. Because individuals had to be controlled such that they did not just kill people strange to them the chief had to be invested with authority to discipline the population. Commoners had to show ritual respect to the chiefdom.
“The most distinctive economic feature of chiefdoms was their shift from reliance solely on the reciprocal exchanges characteristic of bands and tribes…A simple example would involve a chief receiving wheat at harvest time from every farmer in the chiefdom, and then throwing a feast for everybody and then serving bread or else storing the wheat and gradually giving it out again in the months between harvests.”
At best the chiefs used this redistributive system to do good by providing services to the group, at worst the chiefdoms functioned as plutocracies. In modern society plutocracy is the standard rather than the exception; as is so evident to even the most disengaged and uncritical observer.
As we see the movement from social structures such as bands where egalitarianism was the way of life to chiefdoms and from there to present day plutocratic economies one is forced to ask the question “Why do the common people tolerate the transfer of their hard earned wealth to the plutocracy?”
Throughout the ages the plutocrats have managed to accomplish this feat in four different ways: 1) disarm the population; 2) make the masses contented through distributing ‘bread and circus’; 3) promise happiness by providing ‘law and order’ when chaos is pervasive throughout the land; and 4) through organizing religions and various other ideologies.
Ideology was a common mode for controlling the masses in all social formats, and these various ideologies often morphed into religion. Temples and public works were means for keeping focus upon the cape rather than upon the Matador. These means kept the focus off of the chief they also provided the rationale for transferring wealth and the necessary bureaucratic organization into the hands of the plutocracy. Religion also provided the bonding required for the common people to offer their lives in combat for the society. All of this makes the society better able to overcome adversaries in wars of conquest.
Quotes from Guns, Germs, and Steelby Jared Diamond