This question is based on an article I read on psychologytoday.com; what Anthropologists had discovered was that for the vast majority of our existence, we lived in an Egalitarian society without hierarchy (they outright rejected it and had ways of dealing with any that had ambitions) and apparently, their economic system was a gift economy (the complete opposite of trade based economics).

I have in previous posts commented on hunter-gatherers' playfulness; their playful religious practices; their playful approach toward productive work; their non-directive childrearing methods; and their children's playful ways of educating themselves. In all of those posts I emphasized the egalitarian, non-hierarchical nature of hunter-gatherer society.


With this information, it becomes apparent that Humans are not the greedy, self centered creatures that we have been taught, but that it may indeed be out economic system which is based on scarcity which drives this.

So my question is thus: Could modern Humans with the abundance that our ancestors had, create a society based on the Egalitarian nature laid out in the article all while rejecting hierarchy? I did read something on a few Anarchist Communist (no hierarchy, no money) attempts in Spain and Russia but both were crushed from the outside (in Spain, by the Fascists and in Russia by the Bolsheviks).

Some additional resources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunter-gatherer https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gift_economy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarcho-communism

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    $\begingroup$ This strikes me as a hopelessly romantic and wildly misleading understanding of early human cultures. And did you mean to say "the abundance our ancestors didn't have"? Otherwise, I'd wager that the easiest way to achieve this state is to collect all of the infinity stones and make Thanos look like a quarter-measures pansy. $\endgroup$ – zibadawa timmy Jun 21 '18 at 21:29
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    $\begingroup$ Egalitarian utopia. Except for the slaves. Well, and the women. And all the non priest-classes. But the male, free, priest-kings were equal. Until one of them managed to kill the other. $\endgroup$ – Ask About Monica Jun 21 '18 at 23:06
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    $\begingroup$ Politics Stack Exchange is not the best platform to brainstorm hypothetical concepts for future societies. But Worldbuilding Stack Exchange can be used of that purpose if you reframe the question as being about a work of fiction. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Jun 22 '18 at 6:59
  • $\begingroup$ I voted to close as “too broad”. There’s really no way to answer a question of “could” when the target is a theoretic model we have such limited and contested research to support. $\endgroup$ – SRM Jun 22 '18 at 7:41
  • $\begingroup$ While I do approach the article with considerable skepticism, (for instance, [this study: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2706200 of 1189 extant hunter-gatherer groups found evidence of a common hierarchical structure between them, suggesting it's a potential default state), the question is well worded. As (probably wrongly) theorised about our history, could modern humans living in post-scarcity live in an egalitarian, non-hierarchical, gift-economy society? $\endgroup$ – Ynneadwraith Jun 22 '18 at 9:23

An egalitarian, non-hierarchical society model generally only works for very small communities.

The limit is actually a pretty well researched topic in sociology. It is called Dunbar's Number and is estimated to be around 150 people. 150 is the maximum number of people the average human can be emotionally attached to. When you put a human in a larger community, they will start to group people into "acquaintances" they feel empathy for and "strangers" they feel no empathy for.

Having empathy and care for the well-being of other members of the community is essential if you want the society to function without money and hierarchies. As long as people are emotionally attached to each other, they will be willing to share resources and favors without direct authoritarian pressure or material reward. When people do not feel an emotional attachment to another person, they won't do that.

But as soon as you have more people, you need to introduce incentives and punishments to get people to cooperate.

Money is a great tool for resource allocation and to create incentives for productive contributions to the community. Hierarchies are a great tool for legitimizing rules and punish those who break them.

So could humanity return to the hunter-gatherer model of egalitarian society? Yes, but only if we split it into sub-communities of 150 people max and don't expect those sub-communities to cooperate.

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    $\begingroup$ This figure aligns with research on the Ngogo chimpanzee troup; having amassed around 200 members it is at risk of splitting, and already is quite brutal compared to other chimpanzee populations. ngogochimpanzeeproject.org/research $\endgroup$ – Phil H Jun 22 '18 at 9:41
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your reply. I do question the empathy part however, let me give a few examples. When a fireman runs into a burning building and pulls people out of it, risking his/her own life, is that not empathy? Or a doctor who goes into a warzone to help the suffering of others, empathy? One example I failed to produce in my post was on one of the more recent tragedies, the hurricane which hit the Houston area last year (2017) which showed many reports of people helping others in their communities and not asking for anything in return. Was that not empathy? $\endgroup$ – r06ue1 Jun 27 '18 at 11:41
  • $\begingroup$ @r06ue1 Stories like that make the news precisely because they are so rare (just like terrorism, airplane crashes, and gun violence). There are always exceptions to the rule, but I think, in general, most people look out for themselves, their family, and their friends. $\endgroup$ – user15334 Jul 7 '18 at 3:42

the abundance that our ancestors had

This is overly simplified and rather idealized. Only some of our ancestors had relative abundance, namely those living in places where the climate allowed easy growth of plants and fruits.

These places are located in tropical areas, and indeed we have also reports of how the life was more simple in those area (read Melville's Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life), though not free from wars.

In all other places when one doesn't have the luxury of harvesting ripe fruits at any moment of the year, scarcity is the reality.

This paper reports on a massacre carried out around lake Turkana 10 thousands year ago.

Ten of the twelve articulated skeletons found at Nataruk show evidence of having died violently at the edge of a lagoon, into which some of the bodies fell. [...] They offer a rare glimpse into the life and death of past foraging people, and evidence that warfare was part of the repertoire of inter-group relations among prehistoric hunter-gatherers.

So, my answer to your question would be no.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your reply and I agree, not every tribe had abundance as there were Humans who had to survive in desert climates. But in today's world, do you believe that we can today, if we really worked toward the common good of all mankind, that we could provide food, drink, shelter and clothing to everyone on the planet? If the answer to that is yes, then would it not be possible for us to reach a more ideal society based on lack of competition for resources? We will never have utopia, Humans are just to fallible, but perhaps we could build a better one than we have today. $\endgroup$ – r06ue1 Jun 27 '18 at 11:44
  • $\begingroup$ @r06ue1 There are quite a lot of people in the United States (including me) who oppose socialized medicine because they don't want to pay for some poor person's doctor costs. Do you really think people like this (including me) are going to work "toward the common good of all mankind" if there is any sacrifice whatsoever to me? Look at how much people spend on smart phones, games, ring tones, and other not-strictly-necessary-for-life items. $\endgroup$ – user15334 Jul 7 '18 at 3:48
  • $\begingroup$ @barrycarter What if there were no money, then you would not have to pay anything. As long as there is a doctor willing and able to treat that individual, would you be against that? A good example was a few weeks ago, ended up in the ER (pneumonia) and I overheard some doctors and nurses talking. They were discussing how to tell a patient that her insurance would not cover a needed surgery. The doctors and the nurses were PISSED! They were able and willing and had the necessary equipment to perform the surgery but money was holding them back. $\endgroup$ – r06ue1 Jul 10 '18 at 13:41

For a very long time humans lived without any kind of advanced culture. There was no writing, there was no philosophy, there was no profound thinking; and there was no thought given to the future, and as a consequence there was no certainty that the village / horde / tribe survived to live another day.

Because humans were hunter-gatherers, and hunter-gatherers don't plan.

Now, as we say in project management, failing to plan means planning to fail. Life in a hunter-gatherer society may have been happy in the sense that the shadows in the underworld are happy after having drunk the waters of Lethe, with no stress because they lived in an eternal present. Que será, será.

During those times the Earth had very few humans, who, by virtue of being so few, could find enough sustenance without exerting themselves too much. In dialectical and historical materialism this is called the primitive communism, which is a name just as fitting as "gift economy", and which has the advantage of not being self-contradictory: because without private property there can be no gifts; and everything is anyway a silly extrapolation of the habits of modern hunter-gatherers, which may or may not be a good indication of how out ancestors lived so many thousands of years ago.

This unstructured society endured for many millennia, until the time came when humans multiplied and expanded out of their confort zone, and sad realities of economy kicked in; for economy is basically the study of the allocation of scarce resources, and once the Earth got many humans, and humans had to live in places where they actually had to work, they had to organize themselves.

This organization, made necessary be the necessity to plan for the future, to coordinate agricultural work and to allocate scarce resources, took the form -- to continue using the clear terminology of Marxist dialectical and historical materialism -- of the first and second social division of labor. The first social division of labor was between men's work and women's work, and the second division was between those who lead and those who dig. (And this is of course a dream dreamt by Engels after reading Lewis Morgan's Ancient Society, which you can read too, and for free, grace to the selfless efforts of the Internt Archive.)

After that the world got more and more humans, and the struggle to feed them all pushed human society to the successive modes of production, slavery, feudalism, oriental tributary mode of production, capitalism, and it will, in the fullness of time, once we solve the pesky problem of the need to actually work, lead to the radiant future of communism, when we will return somehow to egalitary bliss. The hypothetical state of the world when all basic needs can be satisfy cheaply and effortlessly is usually called post-scarcity economy and is a popular topic of study by economists, sociologists and science-fiction writers who want to escape the depressing reality of work and strife.


We cannot return to the lifestyle of our pre-agricultural ancestors, because the Earth cannot feed more than a few million hunter-gatherer humans. What we can do is to strive relentlessly for scientific and technological progress, so that at an unspecified time in the future we achieve a state where economic scarcity will disappear. With no economic scarcity the need to organize human society in an elaborate pattern of overlapping hierarchies will disappear, and all people will live happily in perfect equality...

Final twist and hook for the sequel

... under the benevolent supervision and guidance of the All-World Communist Party, led by the Great Helmsman, the Most Beloved Son of the People.

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So my question is thus: Could modern Humans with the abundance that our ancestors had, create a society based on the Egalitarian nature laid out in the article all while rejecting hierarchy?

Yes, it is possible. That culture already exists throughout the known world.

Consider the art of graffiti; wherever you travel in this world, you will see street art and know that the culture is present and active. The art is seen everywhere, the artist is rarely seen.

There are numerous monasteries which currently exist where no money is used and no food is grown or stored; the nourishment must come from the charity and generosity of the surrounding humans; in every city you will find individuals whom express the culture that you describe.

Your culture is your own daily actions. You can individually reject any and all attempts to institute or maintain hierarchical systems within each of the domains of your own human activity.

Each individual or institution which you interact with by necessity must be affected by the causation of your culture made functionally manifest to other humans by your individual way of life; your thought, speech and action.

If your inquiry is the maximum potential political scale of individuals which express the same culture as you express, that estimation would be counter-intuitive to the core culture that you are describing: individuals who consciously reject hierarchical systems spontaneously arrive where they need to be when they are needed to be there, without having to call upon them; or, you will express your own culture individually (alone) when no one else arrives to share the political expression of their culture next to you, whenever it is time to shut 'em down.

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    $\begingroup$ Note these individuals only exist on the generosity or leavings of other people who are in the "Grid", the technical term for beings who exist that way is "parasite". $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Jun 22 '18 at 17:04

The article you link have an answer in the first lead:

First, before I get to the three theories, I must address this question: Is it true that hunter-gatherers were peaceful egalitarians? The answer is yes.

The hunter-gatherers and only for them the answer is yes. So when you ask about modern humans you already have the answer NO. You change completely conditions so you cannot expect even similar results.
It's like changing vodka with water (as they are both liquid) and wondering why you're not getting drunk.

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