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Then came farming, which brought with it private property, and then the rise of cities which meant the emergence of civilization properly speaking.
Civilization meant many bad things (wars, taxes, bureaucracy, patriarchy, slavery…) but also made possible written literature, science, philosophy, and most other great human achievements.
Unlike terms such as ‘capital’ or ‘class power’, the word ‘equality’ is practically designed to lead to half-measures and compromise.
For centuries, we have been telling ourselves a simple story about the origins of social inequality.
For most of their history, humans lived in tiny egalitarian bands of hunter-gatherers.
If resources become scarce, or social tensions arise, they respond by moving on, and going someplace else.
Life for these early humans – we can think of it as humanity’s childhood – is full of dangers, but also possibilities.
Then we will attempt to lay down the initial foundations of an entirely different narrative. The questions we are dealing with are so enormous, and the issues so important, that it will take years of research and debate to even begin understanding the full implications. Abandoning the story of a fall from primordial innocence does not mean abandoning dreams of human emancipation – that is, of a society where no one can turn their rights in property into a means of enslaving others, and where no one can be told their lives and needs don’t matter. Human history becomes a far more interesting place, containing many more hopeful moments than we’ve been led to imagine, once we learn to throw off our conceptual shackles and perceive what’s really there.
Let us begin by outlining received wisdom on the overall course of human history.
Material possessions are few, but the world is an unspoiled and inviting place.
Most work only a few hours a day, and the small size of social groups allows them to maintain a kind of easy-going camaraderie, without formal structures of domination.
There is a fundamental problem with this narrative. Overwhelming evidence from archaeology, anthropology, and kindred disciplines is beginning to give us a fairly clear idea of what the last 40,000 years of human history really looked like, and in almost no way does it resemble the conventional narrative.