The Evolutionary Roots of Human Sociopolitical Systems
Our primate ancestors evolved a complex sociopolitical order based on a social dominance hierarchy in multi-male/multi-female groups. The emergence of bipedalism and cooperative breeding in the hominin line, together with environmental developments which made a diet of meat from large animals fitness enhancing, as well as cultural innovation in the form of fire and cooking, created a niche for hominins in which there was a high return to coordinated, cooperative scavenging or hunting of large mammals. This, in turn, led to the use of stones and spears as lethal weapons. The availability of lethal weapons in early hominin society undermined the standard social dominance hierarchy of multi-male/multi-female primates. The successful sociopolitical structure that replaced the ancestral social dominance hierarchy was a political system in which success depended on the ability of leaders to persuade and motivate. This system persisted until cultural changes in the Holocene fostered the accumulation of material wealth, through which it became possible once again to sustain a social dominance hierarchy, because elites could now surround themselves with male relatives and paid protectors. This scenario suggests that humans are predisposed to seek dominance when this is not excessively costly, but also to form coalitions to depose pretenders to power. Published in the Strungmann Forum Reports Series.
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