Early peoples weren’t aware of war, but they were aware of human nature. Current hunter-gatherer tribes still have enforced egalitarianism because they are well aware of what happens when someone (usually a man) starts getting too many ideas about power and his own self-importance. Quoting from this story that I also wrote:
When (anthropologist Richard) Lee asked one of the elders of the group about this practice (of insulting the meat from a kill), the response he received was the following: ‘When a young man kills much meat, he comes to think of himself as a big man, and he thinks of the rest of us as his 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.’ How Hunter-Gatherers Maintained Their Egalitarian Ways
Also, for the most part, they had a low population density, ample natural resources, and nothing to fight over.
Religion definitely is a factor and this is something I’ve been wanting to write about but just haven’t gotten to. It would have taken up too much room to include it in this story. There is significant evidence that nearly all early cultures had a nature-based religion that had at its core The Divine Ancestress, who later was worshipped as The Queen of Heaven. In other words, goddess and nature based, religion that celebrated the life-giving aspects of the great mother. We can see a distinct change in art with the onset of more patriarchal systems (which are not just about subjugating women, but are the first time that classes of any sort arose). The Proto-Indo-Europeans who swept down from the north and either conquered or assimilated the previously peaceful societies worshipped thunder gods who brought death. Art begins to depict slaves in chains, conquerers standing over the vanquished, weapons of war, etc. They brought not just a different religion, but an entirely different social system.
Some Men Find Our Egalitarian History Highly Disturbing
Based on the comments I’ve gotten, it’s profoundly upsetting to some of them
It (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.
As to Steven Pinker, I only reference him because so many different men tried to use that book to prove that I was wrong and didn’t know what I was talking about. In truth, it does nothing of the sort because it only talks about the past 14K years or so. These are the guys who firmly believe in the ever-presence of war and quote from other “experts” who do as well, despite the dearth of evidence of that, and the huge amount of evidence to the contrary. They are the ones who label anyone who doesn’t buy their dystopian fairy tale as Utopians (rather than people in possession of the actual facts).
Meanwhile, for the vast majority of human history, we took care of each other because that was what was good for the entire society — not the social stratification that is maintained and reinforced through coercion and violence that we have now. Our world is in desperate need of remaking. All of our social ills, including racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty, etc. are a direct by-product of the dominance hierarchy that is part and parcel of a patriarchal system.
“There seems to be this strong desire amongst some of these commenters to affirm the naturalness and rightness of male domination. But even beyond that, the prospect that we have had equality and cooperation for most of the human history flies in the face of social Darwinism, where competition is laudable, cooperation is weak, and the fittest survive only by eating the dogs around them before they get eaten themselves. Even if this is the only model of masculinity you’ve ever known, why wouldn’t you want to embrace the possibility of one where you didn’t have to constantly compete for your status as a real man?” (from the story linked above)
FOR 5000 years, humans have grown accustomed to living in societies dominated by the privileged few. But it wasn’t always this way. For tens of thousands of years, egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies were widespread. And as a large body of anthropological research shows, long before we organized ourselves into hierarchies of wealth, social status and power, these groups rigorously enforced norms that prevented any individual or group from acquiring more status, authority or resources than others.*
Decision-making was decentralized and leadership ad hoc; there weren’t any chiefs. There were sporadic hot-blooded fights between individuals, of course, but there was no organized conflict between groups. Nor were there strong notions of private property and therefore any need for territorial defense.
I’ve written extensively on this topic. Here are some further stories that flesh out what I’ve said above more fully: