Current hunter-gatherer tribes actively discourage and censure people who brag, think too much of themselves, or hold themselves above others. Some have a practice where a hunter must disparage his kill so as not to be seen as a braggart. People who become too disruptive by trying to establish themselves as better than others may be shunned, banished, or even executed. In this way, the egalitarian nature of the tribe is maintained. They do not look up to and value more those who are more skilled, and in fact, they have a social system that actively keeps them in check.

The villages of the early fertile crescent were agricultural settlements of about 10,000 at their peak. They weren’t hunter-gather tribes, and they still actively maintained a society that was centered on the good of the entire community. No-one had a larger house or more possessions, no-one ate better or had a higher social station and this too was actively socially maintained as the way to prevent hierarchy. It wasn’t until the Northern peoples came with their very different patriarchal way of life that things changed.

It (Proto-Indo-European peoples) characterizes a long line of invasions from the Asiatic and European north by nomadic peoples. Ruled by powerful priests and warriors, they brought with them their male gods of war and mountains. And as Aryans in India, Hittites and Mittani in the Fertile Crescent, Luwians in Anatolia, Kurgans in eastern Europe, Achaeans and later Dorians in Greece, they gradually imposed their ideologies and ways of life on the lands and peoples they conquered.

Eisler, Riane. The Chalice and the Blade . HarperOne. Kindle Edition

It’s hard for modern people, particularly in the West, to conceive of a life where constant ranking of all kinds, both subtle and overt, aren’t always in play. It’s ubiquitous to us — the ocean we swim in because it’s the foundation of our social system to always compare ourselves to those around us, but that doesn’t mean that it’s universal to human beings in a social sense. Of course, we can tell the difference between an OK hamburger and a great one, but social ranking, classes, thinking primarily of your own wellbeing rather than that of the community, that kind of hierarchy is very recent.

Christopher Boehm, who wrote Hierarchy In The Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior, is the head of the Dian Fossey Primate Center. Just because animals behave in certain ways is not a given that humans will as well.

Dispelling cultural myths with research-driven stories. My favorite word is “specious.” Not fragile like a flower; fragile like a bomb! Twitter @ElleBeau

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