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Christopher Boehm: Hierarchy in the Forest:
the evolution of egalitarian behavior
(Harvard University Press: 1999)


“To one who is living one’s life as a democrat, egalitarianism is a topic that affects not only the head, but the heart.... For egalitarianism, as opposed to actual equality, is intrinsic to the democracy that many people on this planet enjoy, and often take for granted. We democrats live in societies that define us as political equals, and in spite of voter apathy and predatory lobbies we continue to wield our votes: the collective voice of the people continues to be, ultimately, powerful.... We participate in this type of political leverage because we want to keep a say in our own governance, but, more basically, we exert it because we are suspicious of all governance, and wish to limit the powers of those who lead, and may try therefore to rule.... We knowingly make a sensible compromise between the maximization of personal freedom and the needs of a nation that must keep law and order and prevent civil war. Having made this implicit compromise, we tend to be vigilant about our rights - with good reason. Our earliest precursor, in this respect, may have been an African ape living some 5 to 7 million years ago. This vanished ancestral hominoid was likely to have formed political coalitions that enabled the rank and file, those who otherwise would have been utterly subordinated, to whittle away at the power of the alpha individuals whose regular practice it was to bully them.... The idea of people living morally as political equals is a beautiful one, but in an important sense it seems to go against human nature - a nature that leads, quite naturally, to interpersonal domination and to the formation of social dominance hierarchies, with alpha individuals presiding over them. My main hypothesis is that in holding on to their personal autonomies, the collective weapon of the rank and file has been their ability to define their own social life in moral terms, and to back up their thoughts about political parity with pointed actions in the form of collectivized social sanctioning. Egalitarian society would never have appeared in the absence of moral communities, and...the main object of [my] book is to explain the political dynamics that make egalitarian society possible at all levels, and to tie these dynamics to a human nature that definitely is in need of further definition and explanation.”
(Boehm, pp.vii-ix)

Anthropology has always tended to shy away from the fundamentals of politics, too often preferring cultural minutiae - or, latterly, their environmental equivalents - rather than challenging the pieties with which we tend to surround power. In recent years, however, Christopher Boehm has led a direct challenge to this attitude, aimed squarely at the most fundamental problem in the area - that of “primitive” egalitarian communities...the oldest human form of politics. These contrast so strongly - and surprisingly - with the behaviour not only of our closest relatives, but also with the (generally despotic) functionings of most varieties of “civilization”, that this has become one of the unacknowledged cornerstones of the tabula rasa perspective in the human sciences.

By closely surveying the whole variety of evidence on the subject - fascinating in itself - Boehm makes clear that such communities are very far from being anarchic, and just as far from being “non-hierarchical” as are the strongest of tyrannies, whilst traditional arguments stressing environmental causes can not explain such a coherent pattern of political behaviour...especially one which recurs quite frequently in their absence:


“There is little doubt that demographic instability, nomadic restraints on material accumulation, absence of economic specialization outside the family, and uncentralized redistribution systems for meat are important, for they are widespread or universal. They unquestionably contribute to an egalitarian way of life, for they provide conditions friendly to the maintenance of egalitarian politics. But, as levelling mechanisms, even in combination, they do not explain the totally predictable egalitarian ways of these mobile nomads - especially if we entertain the possibility that humans are “naturally” hierarchical.... [Moreover,] many other nonliterates, people who live in permanent, settled groups that accumulate food surpluses through agriculture, are quite similar politically...even though (1) they are not nomadic; (2) they do not necessarily share meat or other food beyond the family; (3) they are in a favorable position to accumulate material goods; (4) their group composition can be highly stable; and (5) some exhibit a degree of economic specialization.... The question, [therefore,] is one of ultimate causality: a single cause or set of causes is needed to explain a widespread political phenomenon.”
(Boehm, p.38)

“Ethnography is the cornerstone of anthropology, but many types of ethnography have been so static (as with most of the symbolic, structural, or functional approaches) that it is difficult to tie them to human nature. Doing so is important, however, for human nature provides a special kind of anchor that links cultural patterns with natural history. A better opening is provided by processual approaches...that take decisions into account. Decisions provide an arena in which human nature affects cultural values, and values help first to define decision alternatives, and then to inform choices made among such alternatives. Most of human behavior is determined by decisions.”
(Boehm, p.234)

“Because the united subordinates are constantly putting down the more assertive alpha types in their midst, egalitarianism is in effect a bizarre type of political hierarchy: the weak combine forces to actively dominate the strong.... [And,] they must continue such domination if they are to remain autonomous and equal.... The three African great apes, with whom we share [a] rather recent common ancestor, are notably hierarchical...[and] the same can be said of most human political societies in the world today, starting about five thousand years ago.... But before twelve thousand years ago, humans basically were egalitarian...[and] the past several centuries have also witnessed sporadic but highly successful attempts to reverse [this hierarchical] trend.... It would appear, then, that some kind of fundamental tension exists between forces that make for equality and democracy, and those that make for hierarchy and coercive leadership.”
(Boehm, pp.3-4)

Some of these points might appear blindingly obvious to most... Trouble is, political theories are fundamentally built upon anthropological assumptions, and the lack of coherent theory in this area has allowed the ideologues - “Hobbsian hawks and Rousseauian doves” to borrow Boehm’s concise phrase - to make most of the running, to the severe detriment of political theory...and, hence, practise.

For this reason, Christopher Boehm’s work is extremely important to all of us, and needs to be far better known to lay audiences. By accurately assessing the full range of evidence on the subject - both primatological and anthropological - and developing a coherent approach which clearly explains it, he has fundamentally rethought the phenomenon of egalitarianism in a way which will (eventually) help reshape our political understandings. Hopefully sooner, rather than later...


“When a young man kills much meat, he comes to think of himself as a chief, or a big man, and he thinks of the rest of us as his servants, or inferiors. We can’t accept this. We refuse one who boasts, for someday his pride will make him kill somebody. So, we always speak of his meat as worthless. In this way, we cool his heart, and make him gentle.”

“You mean to say you have dragged us all the way out here to make us cart home your pile of bones? Oh, if I had known it was this thin, I wouldn’t have come. People, to think I gave up a nice day in the shade for this! At home, we may be hungry, but at least we have nice cool water to drink.”
( !Kung tribesmen on etiquette & the hunt, in Boehm, p.45)

The correct place to begin looking at human egalitarianism is in comparative primatology, and the evidence here shows all the African great apes - even bonobos - as markedly hierarchical, when compared to genuinely non-hierarchical animals such as squirrel monkeys, in which “dominance and submission behaviours can be all but absent, along with food and mating competition and coalition behavior” (Boehm, p.126). However, it is a serious mistake to reify ape hierarchies, which are markedly improvised, and dependent upon both context and the characteristics of individual players...


“[Moreover, even] the seemingly tyrannical behavior of a strong chimpanzee alpha male hardly approaches the despotism of  Hitler...or even the far more limited political power of an American president who can call in the National Guard. [Such an alpha male] can take virtually anything he wants...[and] attack other group members individually, if necessary, to keep them intimidated. But there are few contexts in which he actually controls the group...even though he sometimes regulates conflicts between group members.... But, when it comes to controlling the behavior of larger groups, the alpha’s possibilities are limited to merely influencing the group decisions when indecision prevails.”
(Boehm, pp.26-7)

“The fact that subordinate males must stay put [they are killed if they stray into alien territory] is to the advantage of the alphas: numbers help when chimpanzees mob predators, and when chimpanzees engage in direct territorial competition at the intercommunity level.... If subordinate males were able to transfer to groups with less-dominant alphas, the more-dominant alphas would lose out, because their smaller groups would become vulnerable territorially. On that basis, dominance behaviors would be less strongly selected in this species; but this is not the case.”
(Boehm, pp.130-1)

Key behaviours which can be seen - in different ways - as foreshadowing hominid egalitarianism are the female-centred hierarchy of bonobos which suppresses aggressive male rivalry, the policing role sometimes performed by non-alpha males among chimpanzees (typically when the alpha is too young and overly aggressive to perform this task adequately) and, most suggestive, the occasional large-coalition behavior seen in chimpanzees, in which the male and female rank and file combine to violently exclude former leaders who, presumably, have performed too badly previously. More basically, as Boehm argues, it took a species strongly prone to competitive challenges, bluff and counter-bluff, and fighting to manage to construct the first counter-hierarchy. There’s also the  obviously crucial role of weapons to consider...


“When lethal weapons were developed by humans, they could have...made possible not only killing at a distance, but also far more effective threat behavior; brandishing a projectile could turn into an instant lethal attack, with very little immediate risk to the attacker. This potent new extrasomatic means of fighting and threatening reduced the natural-selection pressures that for millions of years had been keeping in place apelike canines, innately disposed intimidation displays, and long, erectile body hair. To consider the immediate effect of weapons, one need only compare chimpanzee killings...[in which] it takes a group of several male chimpanzees ten to twenty minutes of ferocious gang attack to do in a stranger they catch while on patrol.... My hypothesis is that weapons appeared early enough to have affected dentition, body size, hair loss on the body, and display loss, and they helped to ready humans for egalitarian society by making fights less predictable, and by enabling groups collectively to intimidate or eliminate even a dominating serial killer.”
(Boehm, pp.175-81)

So, already it seems, we have several feasible possibilities for the entry of egalitarian inverse hierarchies into hominid evolution. In fact, as Boehm argues, a variety of entirely plausible scenarios for the development of egalitarian societies can be outlined,  from the slow erosion of alpha power due to repeated collective protests (which I think much the most likely), to a later one-time “egalitarian revolution” driven by conscious moral planning for a better society. Whatever the exact trajectory, however, the consequent effect upon human nature is certain to have been a major one...and too rarely considered by theorists in the area.


“The spread of Palaeolithic egalitarianism had a profound effect on the basic mechanism of natural selection. Specifically, selection at the between-group level was empowered at the expense of selection at the within group level, a shift that profoundly affected human nature.... At the same time, egalitarian moral communities found themselves uniquely positioned to suppress free-riding...at the level of the phenotype. With respect to the natural selection of behavior genes, this mechanical formula clearly favors the retention of altruistic traits.... Free-riders obviously are important figments of mathematical modelling, but for foragers living in bands, the problem of free-riders is a real-life, social problem.... Hyperbolically, the question is, How can cheerful, altruistic cooperators, people guided by generous feelings and positive expectations about cooperation, avoid being exploited by lazy slackers and outright cheaters, or by opportunistic bullies who take advantage of situations by force.... One way they can resolve this all-too-apparent social problem is by ‘legislating’ altruism. As moral communities, humans try to stimulate, reward, and in some areas insist on altruistic behavior.... [For] it has become apparent that vigilant sharing...rather than automatic, unambivalent, totally altruistic sharing, is at the heart of the matter.... [However,] very little reproductive effort is expended in so doing. Much of the investment involves gossiping, and as a general phenomenon gossiping brings individuals reproductive benefits through rewarding social interaction...[whilst] psychological stress is likely to be far greater for the deviant than for those who exert the pressure.”
(Boehm, pp.197-214)

There’s a wide range of commentary I’m strongly tempted to include here, but I’ll have to content myself w/merely sketching in some of the most important. Firstly, it’s very interesting that Boehm has stressed overt morality’s link w/the so-called “free-rider” problem of economists - offering, as it were, a strong evolutionary rationale for Douglass North’s comparable (and highly influential) argument. Economists, please take note...

Secondly, the crucial role of speech in this argument suggests a v.strong selective pressure for full development of that faculty, assuming egalitarian counter-hierarchies already to be in place. Here, I dissent - somewhat - from Boehm’s position, in that I see these to have slowly emerged with Homo ergaster/erectus (along w/reduced canines & digestive systems/fire & cooking/more effective hunting (albeit still not big game) and early ritual/proto-language) within Merlin Donald’s “mimetic culture”. Arguably, the absence of such a formulation in Boehm’s account causes him to underestimate the potential of early Homo, a lack which, however, is easily remedied by the well-informed reader.

Finally, it’s well worth noting that egalitarianism’s downside is the potential for fully-fledged war which - as opposed to opportunistic raiding - is absent in our closest relatives....for it is only with the construction of moral communities that self-sacrificial behaviour becomes a real factor. Therefore, although the evidence is clearly against mobile foragers engaging in war, once settlement occurred, warfare almost certainly followed directly on its heels, with the associated changes so well treated by Barbara Ehrenreich. However, we’re getting ahead of ourselves, now, since this is clearly the point where a detailed discussion of the mechanisms of egalitarian society is required. Let Christopher Boehm explain...


“On their list of serious moral transgressions, hunter-gatherers regularly proscribe the enactment of behavior that is politically overbearing.... An upstart may act the bully simply because he is disposed to dominate others, or he may become selfishly greedy when it is time to share meat, or he may want to make off with another man’s wife by threat, or use of force. He (or sometimes she) may also be a respected leader who suddenly begins to issue direct orders, or a shaman who selfishly uses supernatural connections to manipulate and exploit others for material or sexual gain - or maliciously to cause them serious damage. An upstart may simply take on airs of superiority, or may aggressively put others down, and thereby violate the group’s idea of how its main political actors should be treating one another. An upstart can also be a recidivist murderer, or a homicidal maniac. In any of these instances, the upstart violates...what anthropologists call an egalitarian ethos...a set of focal values.... Bands are moral communities that agree on their values and, as a latent but potent political coalition, are always poised to manipulate or suppress individual deviants...[whilst] the very predictability of sanctioning tends to modify antisocial behavior.... Because much of the social control is preemptive and quite subtle, however, it can remain ethnographically obscure.... One must [also] keep in mind that most anthropologists go in the field to study behavior other than politics, that their language skills are usually  limited, and that they will be recording only a small portion of a group’s total oral tradition - which includes past political crises. And some earlier [?] anthropologists wore rose-colored glasses - they may not have asked the right questions.”
(Boehm, pp.43-4)

“Egalitarian bands amount to ‘intentional societies’...[as they] regularly create and maintain egalitarian blueprints for social behavior, ‘plans’ that are implicit or (in part) explicit in the ethos, and well understood by the rank and file who implement them. The political notions and dynamics involved are not restricted to mobile foragers, for tribesmen all over the world are similarly egalitarian.... Such people are guided by a love of personal freedom. For that reason, they manage to make egalitarianism happen, and do so in spite of human competitiveness.”
(Boehm, pp.60-5)

These points is well worth expanding upon, because they allows us to consider egalitarianism from a more formal perspective: Amongst traditional egalitarians, status rivalry is culturally blocked from becoming a zero-sum game, and the key mechanism is to explicitly disallow our default process whereby specific achievement is generalized, so to speak, to allow the production of an overall hierarchy. By consciously refusing this move, traditional egalitarians in many ways anticipate the plethora of rankings emergent in modern pluralist societies - just as their freedom to vote w/their feet in switching bands anticipates modern mobility of employment and residence.

These facts are usually forgotten, given the more obvious differences between our societies and theirs. And yet, it can easily be argued that the combination of mobility and genuine status pluralism is of much greater significance to the political ethos than any of the more superficial differences between such lives and our own. For why else has egalitarianism - after such a total eclipse - so markedly re-emerged in recent times? On the other hand, what’s also arguable is that traditional egalitarians still have much to teach us...for instance, about the effective suppression of warfare, not to mention the discipline of leadership...


“Egalitarianism is not simply the absence of a headman and other authority figures, but a positive insistence on the essential equality of all people, and a refusal to bow to the authority of others, a sentiment expressed in the statement: ‘Of course we have headmen...each of us is headman over himself.’ Leaders do exist, but their influence is subtle and indirect. They never order or make demands of others, and their accumulation of material goods is never more, and much often less, than the average accumulation of the other households in their camp.”
(Richard B. Lee, quoted in Boehm, p.61)

“Prominent in the [egalitarian] behavioral blueprint is an ethic of sharing that selectively extends to the entire group the cooperation and altruism found within the family. It does so rather successfully with respect to meat sharing, and to the sharing of decision-making power at the band level. This principle of sharing power applies to many aspects of band life, for the personal autonomy of the band’s main political actors is of paramount concern - unless their behavior threatens the autonomy of others, and thereby becomes deviant.... This overall political orientation could be called antiauthoritarian, but it goes further, to the point that the ethos is, in certain contexts, highly anticompetitive.... [However,] foragers are not intent on true and absolute authority, but on a kind of mutual respect that leaves individual autonomy intact.... An ethos is fascinating because it is not necessarily a statement about an actual state of affairs, but a set of strongly held moralistic positions about how life should be. Hunter-gatherers may speak abstractly about personal freedom, but often they prefer to deal in specifics, as when they detail desirable or undesirable traits in leaders.... A desirable leader is likely to be of high social standing, generous, wise, experienced, successful in what he does, and self-assertive in general. It also helps if he is fair-minded, tactful, reliable, morally-upright, apt at resolving disputes, and a competent speaker. One might expect foragers to be enthusiastic about such a person, but their sensitivity to the tendencies of others to grasp at authority is such that some of the stronger qualities that make for effective leadership also create ambivalence. [Therefore,] egalitarian leaders are widely reported to act with modesty and lack of aggressiveness, traits that reflect the sensitivity of leaders themselves to [that] ambivalence...[for] every member of the band is aware of the local ethos; a precise blueprint exists for how to behave if one wishes to be chosen - and uncontroversially retained - as leader.”
(Boehm, pp.67-72)

“Criticism, ridicule, and disobedience, in conjunction with customs that tend to equalize prestige from hunting, will not always do the job. Ostracism (taken in a restricted sense, as in the silent treatment) is one way of putting  a deviant on notice, and at the same time of gaining enough distance so that others can be insulated.... Unanimity is what gives ostracism its sting: it really hurts when one’s entire social world is a few dozen people, and they act in concert to ignore.... Band members will antagonize the miscreant by pretending not to hear him, by supposedly misunderstanding what he says, or by frustrating him in other ways. If protracted, such treatment can cause the deviant to join some other band that will have him. Otherwise, he may have to migrate several times a year, from one band to another.... In egalitarian societies, the overstepping leader is basically vulnerable: he does not personally control local natural resources, nor is he usually able to physically coerce followers to retain him: he is disposable, desertable, and generally dispensable, even though his strategic value to the group weighs into the equation. If he becomes a serious political problem, it usually is feasible to expel him from the group, or desert him. [But] if he is too intimidating, his peers may wish to pursue a different course.”
(Boehm, pp.77-9)

“Tribesmen are different from foragers by ecological definition: they do not exclusively hunt and gather for their livelihood. They may be nomadic, for many tribesmen are pastoralists who move very frequently, and others are horticulturists who move from one garden spot to another every several years.... What is interesting, politically, is that they have continued the political approach of hunter-gatherers, under radically different ecological circumstances. It is also noteworthy that tribesmen have been able to stay egalitarian even when their functioning political units became quite large.... They are prone to raiding, feuding, and territorial warfare, and they often play ‘balance of power’ games by forming intertribal coalitions...[and] it is safe to say that with the advent of the Neolithic era , most foragers became tribesmen. However, by no means did tribal societies always turn into [hierarchical] chiefdoms. Indeed, the bulk of ethnographic descriptions on record today are of tribal societies whose egalitarianism extends back to the acquisition of domestication, and father back into the Palaeolithic era.”
(Boehm, pp.90-1)

Which makes the conventional anthropological approach to egalitarianism - an almost exclusive focus upon mobile foragers - a marked evasion of the facts. Clearly, egalitarianism has been sustained in such communities for thousands of years...and with surprisingly few adjustments. Given the semi-replacement of hunting by war, male rivalry becomes a fact of life, rather than something which can be domesticated, but a heroic society can make room for many heroes, so zero-sum status outcomes can still be evaded. The division between fighters and “the rest”, however, is marked, ridicule tends to be replaced by more sobering forms of ostracism, and conflict mediation abilities become the most prized attributes of leadership. Such societies may not be as easily idealized as those we’ve discussed earlier, but they are a crucial part of the egalitarian spectrum, and we cannot ignore them. Particularly fascinating, to my mind, are so-called “Big-Man” societies.


“Big-Man societies are basically egalitarian tribal societies that permit men adept at trading to develop personal economic empires, and throw their political weight around a little.... Apparently, their behavior is tolerated because of the rivalry between groups; such men help their entire group to compete with others at the level of prestige. Big Men tend to be large-scale feast givers, and conspicuous consumption is the name of the political game they are playing. They end up creating a caricature of the humble generosity that leaders of bands and tribes everywhere are expected to demonstrate, [but] in being hypergenerous, they lose much of their humility. Permitting this role to develop may lead to some ethnographically noticeable political authority, but in practice these trading empires tend to be very much the product of individual skills, [and] unstable. Just as Schneider suggested that livestock provide a statistically precarious base for the growth of economic power, Big Men are subject to similar vagaries Their empires are built upon networks of debts and obligations, and by their nature these seem not to stay in equilibrium forever.”
(Boehm, p.142)

“Public opinion definitely constrains Big Men, where this role is tolerated at all. Whereas with foragers, boasting was deemed reprehensible, and negatively sanctioned, a New Guinea Big Man can properly proclaim his own powers to a certain degree - as long as he does not try to turn the resulting appearance of authority into a means of seriously reducing the political parity of others...[as] the locus of authority is carefully kept with the entire group, so a reverse hierarchy is still in effect. These public opinion processes can be generalized.... As with hunter-gatherers, private discussion helps to shape public opinion in advance, and in the process factions may form. Once the group meets, consensus-seeking becomes salient, and the tribe usually emerges in agreement.... It is difficult to define, even in theory, the transition point at which reverse dominance hierarchies begin to assume an orthodox form...[although] Big-Man societies are suggestive, in that the ethos allows a primus to become unusually ascendant. But it seems safe to say that once the egalitarian ethos has atrophied, or disappeared, the necessary guidance mechanism is lacking. Without it, an orthodox hierarchy is likely to form quite readily.”
(Boehm, pp. 116-23)

“When I surveyed hundreds of band-level and tribal societies that were egalitarian...to see what was done about upstarts who were hungry for power, the problem personalities were males - group leaders, shamans, proficient hunters, homicidal psychotics, or other men with unusual powers or strong tendencies toward political ambition.... [Moreover,] at the band level, it appears to be mainly hunting - and “warfare” if present in some form - that places men in a position to wield more influence in decision-making.... [Conversely,] one area in which women seem to enjoy a far more equal footing politically is in holding down the male upstarts of which we have been speaking. My main hypothesis is that egalitarian societies are created and maintained by moral communities, and women participate quite fully in the moral life of their community.”
(Boehm, pp.7-8)

As Boehm discusses, we have no clear view of the processes which contribute to the downfall of reverse hierarchies and the egalitarian ethos. On the other hand, we do have quite a variety of strongly suggestive correlations. Among these, the inverse relationship between the power of women and warfare is highly suggestive, as too is the issue of scale - with larger egalitarian societies being both highly structured and comparatively rare. Throw in Charles Eric Maisels arguments re the different ecological circumstances favouring despotic political orders versus city-states, as well as the earlier noted mobility/pluralism factors, and I think we have the makings of a necessarily speculative but also firmly evidence-based approach to this crucial transition in human history...as well as a better sense of just why we’re returning to the egalitarian road.

And, finally, Boehm’s wider argument also makes a natural fit w/one of the central threads which has emerged in the construction of the new humanities: that centred upon the typologies of power/ideology developed by W.G. Runciman and Mary Douglas, respectively...which I’ve also related to the developmental anthropology of Edward T. Hall, Albert O. Hirschman’s Exit, Voice, and Loyalty (1970), and the “moral syndromes” sketched in Jane Jacobs’ later work. Consilience, yet again, is at work, methinks...as Boehm’s argument shows us exactly why such tripartite divisions repeat across all the human sciences:


“At the level of human nature, egoism, nepotism, and altruism are structured to work against each other. [For] if we move from genotype to phenotype, to consider psychological motives, human interactions in groups are likely to see individualistic prerogatives competing directly with familial ones, while altruistic motives that favor unrelated individuals or the entire multifamily group compete against both.... [Moreover,] as highly cultural animals, humans tend to automatically conform to prior decision patterns...[and] make such conformity normative, and therefore in many cases we think strategically about why conformity is needed. We set up rules that assist people in resolving their ambivalences in a certain direction, whether the decision is highly routinized or an emergency triage. Such is the nature of morally based behavioral traditions.”
(Boehm, pp.243-4)

The publication of Christopher Boehm’s Hierarchy in the Forest (1999) marks a revolution in our philosophical anthropology, in which ideological fictions can - finally! - be replaced by the genuine history and science of egalitarian/hierarchical behaviour. Funnily enough, the end result is markedly in accord w/both the promptings of common sense and the best of ancient political theory...which has always stressed the importance of moral communities in the equation, contra most modern political theory, which has a strong preference for purely procedural/instrumental models.

Whilst I have my differences w/Boehm - mainly re the most likely period of emergence - his work now establishes a new baseline for discussions of our political nature...even if most political scientists are yet to be appraised of that fact. And, in Boehm’s three contradictory drives, we also have a further strengthening of the moral/political argument underpinning the new humanities project...with no real alternative in sight, to boot. All in all, this is not only an extremely important book, but a highly gratifying one, too...as it allows us to most properly dispense w/the two-dimensional models beloved by population geneticists and neoclassical economists - not to mention mainstream “evolutionary psychology”. The reality-based community has much to thank Boehm for...


“Potentially, we are all both doves and hawks, and the prudent course is to realize that our own contradictory nature predisposes us to draw caricatures. The next step is to try and be evenhanded, looking dispassionately for specific combinations of nice and nasty, in order to see how the two work together.... As members of a moral community, egalitarians may submit individually to dangerous upstarts in their midst, yet as a community they may become collectively and unambivalently dominant over such individuals, and even kill them The use of an ambivalence approach does not end there. Because their society is intentional, as contributors to it egalitarians are involved in a perpetual meta-compromise: in effect, they are giving up on personal domination possibilities, which human nature tends to make attractive - so as to avoid having to submit to other individuals - which human nature tends to make unattractive.... [However,] to complete the I must emphasize something I have all but taken for granted: it is the submissive dispositions in human nature that make most of the would-be upstarts desist, before they have to be vigorously manipulated (or eliminated) by their groups.... [And, so,] we are left with something far different from a political tabula rasa. While humans may strike one as being unusually flexible in their political behavior...our political nature nevertheless makes certain aspects of human political life quite predictable. We always live in some type of hierarchy, which suggests that our behavior is constrained by human nature. Contributing to the flexibility are the psychological ambivalences discussed above: we can combine our competing innate tendencies in a number of ways. The basic ambivalences involve tendencies to dominate, resentment of domination, and submission, and in groups people sometimes resolve them by going to extremes.... [However,] they also may arrive at compromises.”
(Boehm, pp.227-37)



John Henry Calvinist