Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior
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Are humans by nature hierarchical or egalitarian? Hierarchy in the Forest addresses this question by examining the evolutionary origins of social and political behavior. Christopher Boehm, an anthropologist whose fieldwork has focused on the political arrangements of human and nonhuman primate groups, postulates that egalitarianism is in effect a hierarchy in which the weak combine forces to dominate the strong.
The political flexibility of our species is formidable: we can be quite egalitarian, we can be quite despotic. Hierarchy in the Forest traces the roots of these contradictory traits in chimpanzee, bonobo, gorilla, and early human societies. Boehm looks at the loose group structures of hunter-gatherers, then at tribal segmentation, and finally at present-day governments to see how these conflicting tendencies are reflected.
Hierarchy in the Forest claims new territory for biological anthropology and evolutionary biology by extending the domain of these sciences into a crucial aspect of human political and social behavior. This book will be a key document in the study of the evolutionary basis of genuine altruism.
same direction. The excited alpha male does not see Mustard just above him, writhing and wriggling, knowing exactly where he is about to land. As I watch, the dance that Mustard performs in thin air suggests a free-falling acrobat trying to move his body sideways without any traction whatsoever—an aerial pantomime that would have been comical but for the potential consequences. I brace myself mentally for the inevitable attack as Mustard, his face now distorted in a very wide fear-grimace, lands
very seriously as a theoretical variable. In looking at band-level society as a true pioneer, Steward (1955) relegated values to a causally passive, all-but-derivative category that he termed ideology. However, the egalitarian ethos is far more than a reﬂection of other more basic environmental and social forces in human life. For the indigenous moral community, it provides a realistic focus for action as people try to regulate social life within the group. Because such attempts tend to be
including the major Big Man, who perceive that tide running strongly against them may well go along with the emerging majority view. Thus, step by step the slow process of constant feedback inches toward the possibility of general agreement on a correct course of action. Then, when the Big Man believes that consensus is close at hand and that further talk will add nothing of value, he incisively summarizes the main arguments, indicates which have been rejected, and ﬁnally announces the decision
Presumably, the mutual ancestor of humans and chimpanzees was the same, but was more prone to act collectively in an “insubordinate” capacity. In human nature terms, our discussion is relevant to Fried’s (1967) passing speculation that there may be a universal drive to parity. The disposition in question is not one that orients us speciﬁcally to equality, but one that makes us resentful of being unduly subordinated, however that happens to be deﬁned individually—or culturally. Today’s human
domination episodes. Such episodes are infrequent, yet the possibility of domination’s getting out of hand seems to be well understood even when an egalitarian political system is in place. When the !Kung insult not only the meat but (in effect) the hunting prowess of skilled or fortunate hunters, they are not seeking merely an immediate suppression of domination tendencies. They are thinking about their group life as a whole, and about the possibility that if some stronger individual emerges, he