My friend, you apparently just wanted a personal re-cap of half of the things that I’ve published this year. Why are you referencing philosopher's ideas rather than anthropologists and archeologist's ideas? What Rousseau believes is irrelevant in the face of what scientists say. And they do not believe that early humans were noble savages. They believe that ancient egalitarian societies were actively and vehemently so, just as many modern hunter-gatherer cultures are today. They keep in check human impulses towards greed and bragging with the way that their culture functions. Those who step out of line get banished or worse. Men (and it’s nearly always men) who get out of line, try to grab power, or otherwise don’t maintain the egalitarian ethos of the tribe get somewhere between the cold shoulder and death, depending on how egregious their crime is. Family members carry out the death sentence if that is what is deemed necessary in order to keep the cohesion of the tribe.

“The hunter-gatherer way of life, unlike the agricultural way of life that followed it, apparently depended on intense cooperation and sharing, backed up by a strong egalitarian ethos; so, hunter-gatherers everywhere found ways to maintain a strong egalitarian ethos. Now, back to the main question of this post. How did hunter-gatherers maintain their egalitarian ways? Here are the three theories, which I think are complementary to one another and all correct.

Theory 1: Hunter-gatherers practiced a system of “reverse dominance” that prevented anyone from assuming power over others.

Theory 2: Hunter-gathers maintained equality by nurturing the playful side of their human nature, and play promotes equality.

Theory 3: Hunter-gatherers maintained their ethos of equality through their childrearing practices, which engendered feelings of trust and acceptance in each new generation.

See the full article, written by an anthropologist, for more details about these.

Feminists didn’t decide that inequality and patriarchy started with agriculture. That’s the generally accepted view of pretty much all anthropologists.

“Today, most anthropologists would agree, regardless of their stance on issues such as the universality of male dominance, that an entirely different order of male dominance became associated with the rise of the large and populous agricultural states organized in terms of classes. The patriarchal systems that emerged brought women for the first time under the direct control of fathers and husbands with few cross-cutting sources of support. Women as wives under this system were not social adults, and women’s lives were defined in terms of being a wife. Women’s mothering and women’s sexuality came to be seen as requiring protection by fathers and husbands. Protecting unmarried women’s virginity appears to go along with the idea of the domestication of women and an emphasis on a radical dichtomy between the public and the private sphere.”

And maybe 100 years ago they didn’t consider anything other than monogamy as being a way for humans to live because science was a lot more deeply infected with the social mores of its time than it is now. There’s a huge amount of scholarship on this, and it’s widely believed now that early humans were cooperative breeders.

“There is a growing consensus among anthropologists that we evolved not as monogamous dyads but as cooperative breeders. The culturally strong image of the brave pre-historic hunter bringing home the bacon to his mate who is waiting to be provided for is really just a cultural myth. For most of human history, small bands of men and women raised young collectively, and almost certainly mated with multiple partners.

This is a lifestyle with a lot of evolutionary benefits. Multiple mating in primates establishes and continually reinforces social bonds so that there are low levels of conflict, and there is every reason to believe the same was true of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Enhanced cooperation meant all were more likely to look after one another and their young, thus improving each individual’s reproductive fitness (the odds that their offspring would go on to produce offspring).”

As Saint Louis University associate professor of anthropology Katherine C. MacKinnon told me, “We had predators. And we didn’t have claws or long, sharp teeth. But we had each other. Social cooperation, including cooperative breeding, was a social and reproductive strategy that served us well.”

Martin, Wednesday. Untrue (p. 91). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.

FYI, polyandry means multiple husbands, not multiple wives. I believe the term you are looking for is polygyny.

We know a huge amount about what happened before the advent of agriculture. I’m pretty disappointed to hear a scientist make all of these really baseless claims full of sloppy scholarship. Here is just a tiny part of what we know about the ancient world:

“For example, we know that the continents were all once linked together into a supercontinent known as Pangea. We also know that this landmass existed approximately 335 million years ago, and it began to break apart about 175 million years ago. No written record exists. We still accept it as a scientific fact.

We know that birds are descended from dinosaurs. We also know where dinosaurs lived, what they ate, and when they died off. We know that Mastodons coexisted with human beings, but that T-rexes did not.

We also know that when the people who lived in a particular area lived on a wide-open plain that was not easily defensible, that they weren’t all that worried about being attacked. This is shored up by the fact that they made tools, but not weapons. Add to that pottery and other art that depicts love, feasts, regal goddesses, etc. and compare that to later civilizations whose art depicted killing, slavery, and warrior-kings. It tells us a whole lot about the differences in those two civilizations and when the change from one to the other took place.”

There are plenty of cultures that had written language that record non-monogamy, so we don’t have to wonder about that either, although there are a lot of strong inferences that can be made about that in other ways as well.

“The Standard Model of Human Evolution has myriad data points that do not support it. From the shape of the human penis to the fact that women are not naturally monogamous; from our history as primarily matrilineal cultures, as well as the thousands of years when female sexual non-exclusivity was actually a part of religious worship — the world has only been arranged as it is now for the past 3% of human history. It is neither biologically nor evolutionarily necessary.”

Non-monogamous relationships, including polyandry, partible paternity, and “walking marriages” are alive and well all over the world in the present day in cultures that go way, way back. The history of polygyny is fairly well documented, but polyandry is also still a lot more common than most people realize. It was hardly something invented in modern times.

“Polyandry is practiced around the world and has been since the beginning of time. In the Indian Himalayas, it still takes place in some areas because polyandry results in less fragmentation of land and also helps to keep the population lower. In certain areas of Tibet, women marry two brothers, as do the Toda people of southern India, for the same reasons. This is called fraternal or adelphic polyandry. The Masaai of Africa have been polyandrous, although this is less commonly practiced today. It was used to help offset high infant and warrior mortality.

Partible paternity, wherein a child is seen to have more than one father, is practiced in about 20 tribal societies, primarily in South American. In pre-contact Polynesia, high caste women practiced polyandry. More and more anthropologists are embracing the idea that cooperative breeding was most likely the evolutionary strategy that allowed early humans to survive and thrive, not the dyadic one that until recently had been surmised.

As Saint Louis University associate professor of anthropology Katherine C. MacKinnon told me, “We had predators. And we didn’t have claws or long, sharp teeth. But we had each other. Social cooperation, including cooperative breeding, was a social and reproductive strategy that served us well.”

You are correct that there were no “noble savages” but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t overwhelming scientific indication that prior to 12K years ago warfare, systemic violence, social hierarchy and class systems (which is what patriarchy is at it’s root) did not exist.

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

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store