Friday, February 8, 2013

Anarchist by design

Humans appear to be hardwired for collaboration in ways that other primates are not.

Studies comparing human children to adult chimpanzees find that human children show a strong preference for working together to obtain food while chimps tend to prefer more solitary foraging activities.1

Human children are also more likely than chimpanzees to share the spoils of a cooperative venture, and to be concerned with the equitable distribution of resources among peers.2 Researchers have found adult patterns of cooperative behavior in children less than 4 years old,3 and children as young as 14 months demonstrate the ability to cooperate in shared goal-pursuit and to altruistically help other people achieve their goals.4

In short, human children demonstrate egalitarian social tendencies early on, and in ways that suggest that these tendencies are inborn, a byproduct of human evolution—more evidence that we are all born anarchists.

Human societies that qualify as egalitarian, that is, societies of near-equals in which everyone has more or less equal access to resources and more or less equal power in terms of community decision-making, are found only among certain groups of hunter-gatherers. Egalitarianism is not a passive condition in these societies, but something that is actively asserted and zealously maintained.

In addition to the presence of sometimes very elaborate and intentional social leveling mechanisms designed to guard against domination by specific individuals or groups, there are several characteristic features of a foraging lifestyle that naturally limit the concentration of power and authority. All of these characteristics involve the preservation of personal autonomy and the lack of mediation between the individual and his or her access to life’s necessities.

If there is one thing that most defines our present global cluster-fuck, it’s the mediation of access: layers and layers of mediation, and at each one a dozen corporate parasites with mandibles firmly attached. 


1.       Rekers, Y., Haun, D. M., & Tomasello, M. (2011). Children, but Not Chimpanzees, Prefer to Collaborate. Current Biology, 21(20), 1756-1758.
2.       Hamann, K., Warneken, F., Greenberg, J. R., & Tomasello, M. (2011). Collaboration encourages equal sharing in children but not in chimpanzees. Nature, 476(7360), 328-331.
3.       Olson, K. R., & Spelke, E. S. (2008). Foundations of cooperation in young children. Cognition, 108(1), 222-231.
4.       Warneken, F., & Tomasello, M. (2007). Helping and Cooperation at 14 Months of Age. Infancy, 11(3), 271-294.

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