the plan for the future

Part II: The Agricultural Revolution


5. History's Biggest Fraud

5.1. The domestication of humans


A Brief History of Humankind: Lecture 5.1

The lives of hunter-gatherers were in many respects better than the lives of peasants and workers that appeared after the Agriculture Revolution. This raises the question why did the agricultural revolution happen? For the first two and a half million years of their existence, humans managed very well without agriculture. This changed around 9,500 BC ago when humans began to devote almost all their time and effort to manipulate the lives of a few animal and plant species from sunrise to sunset like wheat and potatoes or chicken and cows.

The transition from a life of hunting and gathering to a life of controlling and cultivating plants and animals occurred for the first time around 9000 BC in the hill country of southeastern Turkey, western Iran, and the Levant. Independently of the Agricultural Revolution in the Middle East, people in Central America, China, New Guinea and in several other places domesticated plants and animals.

Why did the Agricultural Revolution erupt in those few places? The short answer is that most species of plants and animals are not good candidates for domestication. Those few species that were suited for domestication lived in those particular areas. The book called Guns, Germs, and Steel of Jared Diamond explains what makes a plant or an animal suitable for domestication. The book also describes in great detail the actual process of the rise of agriculture.

Scholars once proclaimed that the Agricultural Revolution not only began in a single place, the Middle East, but also that the Agricultural Revolution was a great leap forward for human kind. They used to argue that evolution gradually produced over the centuries and millennia more and more intelligent people that were able to understand better how plants and animals reproduce. This enabled people to start taming and controlling sheep, goats, chickens, wheat and potatoes. People then gladly abandoned the difficult and dangerous life of hunter-gatherers and settled down to enjoy the much easier life of farmers.

There is no evidence that people became more intelligent around the time of the Agricultural Revolution. Hunter-gatherers knew how plants and animals reproduce. More importantly, it is a mistake to think that the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture improved the human standard of living. Compared to most peasants, the ancient hunter gatherers enjoyed a better life. They enjoyed a healthier diet, worked fewer hours, and spent their time doing much more interesting things than the peasants. Also they were less in danger of starvation, of disease, and probably even less in danger of human violence.

The Agricultural Revolution certainly enlarged the sum total of food at the disposal of human kind, but all this extra food did not translate into a better diet or a better life. Rather all this extra food translated into a demographic of explosion. There were many more people than before, and also pampered elites like kings, noblemen, and priests. They ate all the extra food. The average peasant in the small village worked harder than the average forager thousands of years previously and they got in return a worse diet. The agriculture evolution from this perspective turns out to be the biggest fraud in history.

Now who exactly was responsible for this fraud? The real culprits were a handful of plant species such as wheat, rice and potatoes. These plants domesticated Homo Sapiens for their advantage, rather than vice versa. For example, 10,000 years ago wheat was just one type of wild grass. It was one of many wild grasses that grew in some small areas in the Middle East. Suddenly, within just a few millennia, wheat was spread all over the world. According to the basic evolutionary criteria of survival and reproduction, wheat has become one of the most successful plants in the history of planet Earth.

How did it turn wheat from being insignificant to be everywhere? According to Dr. Harari wheat did it by manipulating Homo Sapiens. About 10,000 years ago Homo Sapiens suddenly began investing more and more time and effort in cultivating wheat, so that within quite a short time humans in many parts of the world were helping wheat from dawn until sunset. Humans removed rocks and pebbles from the fields to clear the space for wheat. Humans laboured very hard bringing water, nourishing the ground and weeding out other plants. Humans also spent a lot of effort to protect wheat from rabbits, locusts and deer.

Homo Sapiens did not evolve for these kind of tasks. The body was adapted to climbing trees and running after game. The human body is not adapted to all this back breaking toil. All this work demanded so much time from people, that people were forced to settle permanently next to the wheat field and this completely changed their way of life. From nomadic foragers, humans turned into peasants living in a village in one place. In this way wheat domesticated humans. To domesticate somebody means to make him or her live in a house.

5.2. The rotten deal


A Brief History of Humankind: Lecture 5.2

The agricultural way of life was hard and difficult. So what convinced homo sapiens to exchange a rather good life for a more miserable existence? Wheat did not offer a better diet. Humans are omnivorous apes. They thrive by eating a very wide variety of different food stuffs. Grains like wheat made up only a small fraction of the human diet before the Agricultural Revolution. A diet which is based on mainly on grains and cereals is poor in minerals and vitamins. It is hard to digest and it is really bad for the teeth.

Wheat also did not offer people economic security. The life of a peasant is usually less secure than the life of a hunter gatherer. Peasants thousands of years ago subsisted mainly by growing and eating one, two or three types of of plants. If there is some calamity like drought, or flooding, or some parasite that destroyed the crop, peasants died in the thousands or in millions. Hunter-gatherers enjoyed better economic security because they ate a lot of different foods. If there was some calamity and one particular food stuff became scarce, hunter gatherers could switch over to other foods.

Also wheat did not offer better security. The early farmers in the villages and towns were probably more violent than their forager ancestors. With agriculture humans had less room for compromise in their conflicts and confrontations. When a foraging band came into conflict with another stronger band, it could usually move on to a different place. Peasants however could not retreat as this meant giving up fields, houses and granaries, which probably doomed the refugees to death by starvation. So, even in the face of a much stronger enemy, the only thing to do was to fight to the bitter end.

Anthropological and archaeological studies that indicate that in simple agricultural societies 8,000 years ago human violence was responsible for about 15% of all human death, including 25% of male death. Today the chance of dying from violence is about 1%. Violence eventually was brought under control by the development of larger social framework such as cities, kingdoms and empires. It took thousands of years to build such huge and effective political structures. Many of us today enjoy a relatively high degree of affluence and security compared to what most people in history enjoyed.

Because our affluence and security are built on agricultural foundations, people tend to assume that the Agricultural Revolution was a big step forward. The people at that time did not enjoy those benefits so the question arises what did wheat offer the often malnourished peasants? The answer is that wheat did not offer anything for people as individuals but wheat did give something to Homo Sapiens as a specie. Cultivating wheat provided much more food per unit of territory for a given field. All this extra food enabled the numbers of sapiens to grow.

Evolution measures success not by hunger, pain, happiness, or suffering, but by the numbers of copy of DNA in existence of a particular species. This is the success of the Agricultural Revolution. The question that arises next is why should individuals agree to lower their standards of living just in order to multiply the number of copies of the Homo Sapiens genes? One answer is that individual people really never agreed to this. The move from hunting and gathering to agriculture was not a conscious one time decision but an accumulation of many small steps.

None of those individual steps was decisive, but by 8500 BC the Middle East was already peppered with peasant villages such as Jericho. At the same time the population began to grow for a number of reasons. First of all, agriculture provided more food. Secondly, settling in villages enabled women to have a child every year instead of every three or four years as was the case with hunter gatherers. They were encouraged to have all these extra children because there was always work to be done in the fields but those children soon ate all the extra food that agriculture provided.

Moreover, infectious diseases began to spread rapidly. First of all because more and more infectious diseases jumped from domesticated animals to people. Secondly, because people began to live in villages, their hygienic condition deteriorated. Hunter gatherers were wandering around in small groups and did not stay close to their toilets and garbage piles. Peasants and town dwellers lived in crowded places in close proximity to the garbage and the toilets and to sick people and sick animals. The third reason why people were suffering more from diseases was that their diet was worse.

Despite all the increase in disease and death, births outpaced deaths, and as a result, there were more and more humans living in these villages and towns, even though they were less healthy. Children died in droves and adults had a hard life of labour. The average person in Jericho of 8500 BC lived a harder life than the average person in Jericho of 13000 BC. Nobody realised what was happening because it did not happen in one day, but over the generations. Every generation invented something more to make life easier, but those innovations like bringing water from the well to the wheat, increased the burden.

5.3. The cause of the Agricultural Revolution


A Brief History of Humankind: Lecture 5.3

The Agricultural Revolution was a gradual affair. A collection of attempts to improve life resulted in more difficult living conditions for most humans. Why did people make such a fateful miscalculation? The reason is that people are simply unable to foresee the full consequences of their decisions. Whenever they decided to do a bit of extra work, the harvest will be much more bountiful, they thought that they would not have to worry any more about drought and lean years and that their children would never have to go to sleep hungry. People did not foresee that the number of mouths to fill would increase.

Another thing that the early farmers did not understand is that feeding children with more porridge and gruel instead of mother's milk would weaken their bodies and their immune systems, and that permanent settlements like villages were a hotbed for infectious diseases so that the children would actually die in large numbers from these diseases. Another thing that early farmers did not foresee, is that by increasing their dependence on a single source of food like wheat, they were exposing themselves even more than before to the dangers of drought.

One more thing that the farmers did not foresee is that even in good years when they had granaries bulging full of grain, these granaries would tempt thieves and enemies to come and conquer the village and steal all this. Therefore, they had to start building walls, doing guard duties and fighting all kinds of wars which they previously did not have to do. So all these unforeseen factors ruined the initial plan of working harder in exchange for a better life.

Despite that, people did not abandon this lifestyle. It took generations to realise that things are not working as hoped. By then nobody remembered that they had ever lived in a different way. Another reason why people did not go back is that population kept on growing so there were too may people around to go back to the previous lifestyle. Similar things happen today as people get accustomed to their lifestyle so they have to work hard for it. One of the few iron laws of history is that luxuries tend to become necessities.

For example, over the last few decades we humans have invented countless devices in order to save time and to have a more efficient life. These devices are supposed to make our life more relaxed because they save us a lot of time. These devices for example like washing machines and vacuum cleaners, and dish washers, and telephones, and mobile phones, and computers and emails. Despite that we do not live a more relaxed life. Where 50 years ago people had to deal with one or two letters a week, today they spend more and more time reading and answering dozens of emails that reach their email boxes everyday.

There is nothing new about that. Thousands of years ago, at the time of the Agricultural Revolution, not all human bands made this transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture. The Agricultural Revolution did not require that every band in a given region joined in. It required only one band in a region to do so. Agriculture was irresistible because farming created the conditions for a population explosion. In conflict with foragers farmers could always count on larger numbers. Foragers could either abandon their territory or could choose to become farmers themselves in order to compete with their enemies.

The story of the luxury trap, which is the attempt to improve life that ends up making life more difficult, carries with it a very important lesson for humanity. Humanity's search for an easier life, released immense forces of change which transformed the world in ways that nobody envisioned or wanted. It happened because it was a series of trivial decisions. Humans are all the time looking to make for ways to make their lives a bit easier. But sometimes this releases immense forces of change that completely transform the world and make the lives of humans actually harder and not easier than before.

Decorated stone pillar from Gobekli Tepe, Turkey
Decorated stone pillar from Gobekli Tepe, Turkey
An alternative explanation suggests that the Agricultural Revolution was caused by an attempt to fulfil some kind of cultural or religious aspiration. It is difficult to tell what were the cultural ideals and the religious beliefs of people at the time of the Agricultural Revolution but archaeologists have discovered one truly amazing site that gives credence to this explanation. In 1995 archaeologists began to excavate a site in South Eastern Turkey, which is called Gobekli Tepe.

In the oldest layers of the site, there were no signs of settlement but monumental structures with huge pillars decorated with spectacular engravings. Altogether, archaeologists have uncovered about 10 such structures. Many decorated stone pillars that supported these huge structures. Each of these stone pillars weighed about up to seven tonnes and reached a height of up to five metres. The structures at Gobekli Tepe are dated to about 9500 BC, 7,000 years before Stonehenge. The available evidence indicates that the people who built the structure at Gobekli Tepe were not farmers but hunter gatherers.

It seems that the key abilities of ancient foragers and the complexity of those societies and cultures were much more impressive than what scholars previously suspected. Whatever the cultural purpose of the structures was, foragers believed in this cultural or religious purpose enough in order to invest a huge amount of time and effort building Gobekli Tepe. The building required thousands of foragers belonging to different bands, perhaps even different tribes, to cooperate over years and decades. Only a very sophisticated religious or ideological system could sustain and motivate such efforts.

Recent studies indicate that at least one variant of domesticated wheat was domesticated for the first time in the hills about 30 kilometres away from Gobekli Tepe. It is very likely that the cultural centre at Gobekli Tepe was somehow closely connected to the initial domestication of wheat by humans. The leading theory argues that in order to feed the people who built and used the monumental structures at Gobekli Tepe needed large quantities of food, which made humans switch for the first time from gathering wild wheat to the cultivation of domesticated wheat.

In the conventional picture villagers came before temples and pioneers first build a village, and when the village became prosperous enough, they set up a temple. Gobekli Tepe suggests that at least in some cases the temple was built before the village, and that the villages only grew around it later. The findings also suggest that the initial reason for agriculture was a mysterious religious or cultural purpose and not an economic purpose. This cannot explain the Agricultural Revolution in America or in China that happened independently. It still seems that economic purposes are behind these developments.

5.4. The fate of domesticated animals


A Brief History of Humankind: Lecture 5.4

The Agricultural Revolution was a deal between humans and plants but this deal affected animals as well. The process of domestication of animals may have begun with selective hunting. Humans who hunted, for example, wild sheep learned that it was to their advantage to hunt very selective and to kill mainly the adult males and the old or sick sheep and not to kill the fertile females and the young lambs, otherwise within a very short time there would not be any sheep left. The second step on the way to domestication was that when people started to protect the herd against other predators such as lions and wolves and rival human bands.

The next stage was then when the human band might have confined the herd of sheep inside say a gorge and blocked the entrance in order to better control and defend the herd of wild sheep. The last stage on the way to domestication was when people began to make a more careful selection among the sheep in order to tailor them to human needs. The most aggressive rams were slaughtered first. Similarly the female sheep who were the skinniest and the most inquisitive were killed first because shepherds do not like curious sheep that wander around. With each passing generation the sheep controlled by humans became more and more fat, more and more submissive and less and less curious. In this way they became domesticated sheep.

Another scenario is that it all began when hunters caught and adopted a little lamb, fattening it for some weeks or months when there was plenty of food. When there was not enough food around, they killed it and ate it. It was a kind of insurance. At some stage, hunters began to keep a greater number of lambs in case there was some trouble in getting other kinds of food. Some of them grew up to become sheep and rams and they began to procreate. The most aggressive and unruly sheep were slaughtered first. Over the generations herds of domesticated and submissive sheep emerged that humans shaped for their own needs. The same thing probably happened with other animals like goats, cows, chicken and horses.

They were important to people because they provided humans with food like meat, milk and eggs. They provided humans with all kinds of raw materials like skins and wool. They also provided humans more with muscle power for transportation ploughing the field. At the beginning of the Agricultural Revolution around 10,000 years ago, there were not more than a few million sheep, cattle, goats, pigs and chickens. Today the world contains about 1 billion sheep, about 1 billion pigs, about 1.5 billion cattle, and more than 25 billion chickens. From a narrow evolutionary perspective, the Agricultural Revolution was a success for chickens, cattle, pigs, sheep and goats. This measure gives no importance to questions of individual suffering and individual happiness.

The domestication of animals was founded on a series of brutal practises that became only more and more cruel. The vast majority of domesticated chickens and cattle and pigs are slaughtered at the age of between a few weeks and a few months because this is the optimal slaughtering age from an economic perspective. Only draught animals like horses and oxen were allowed to live for years by their human owners, but they were exploited and subjugated to a way of life which was usually very alien to the urges and desires of the animals themselves. The process of taming animals almost always involves the castration of the males. It restrains male aggression. By castrating most of the males, humans can also selectively control the procreation of the herd.

Grave painting, Egypt
Grave painting, Egypt
An Egyptian grave painting made about 1200 BC shows a typical agricultural scene of an Egyptian peasant ploughing a field. For the oxen which are yoked to the plough, life was miserable. Their ancestors who lived in the wild rolled freely as they pleased in big herds with complex social structures. In contrast the castrated and domesticated ox wasted most of his life ploughing fields under the yoke of humans usually doing so alone or in pairs without much opportunity to forge social bonds with other bulls and cows.

On the island of New Guinea the wealth and status of a person is traditionally been measured by his number of pigs he or she owns. Pigs are very important in most New Guinea societies. In order to ensure that the pigs can not run away, farmers often sliced off a part of the nose of their pigs. This causes the pig a severe pain whenever it tries to sniff around. By mutilating the noses of the pigs, the human owners make the pigs completely dependent on them because the pigs cannot run away, and manage themselves when their noses are sliced.

The dairy industry had its own ways of controlling animals and extracting milk from animals. Throughout history the calves were often slaughtered shortly after they were born in order to milk the mother. In many modern dairy farms, a milk cow usually lives for about five years before being slaughtered. During these five years when she is alive, she is almost constantly pregnant As she is fertilised within 60 to 120 days after giving birth to a previous offspring in order to preserve a maximum milk production. The calves are separated from the cow shortly after birth. The females are usually reared to become the next generation of dairy cows and the males are handed over to the care of the meat industry.

Another method which is common in more traditional societies is to keep the calves near their mothers but prevent them by all kinds of tricks to suckle too much milk. This method has a big problem as it usually encounters resistance, both from the infant and from the mother. So many shepherd tribes invented all kinds of tricks to solve this problem. One method was to kill the calf, eat it, then stuff the skin and present the stuffed calf to the mother in order to encourage her milk production. Another technique was to make a ring of thorns and tie it around the mouth of the calf so that it will prick the mother and will cause the mother to resist suckling and the milk will be available for humans.

There is good reason to believe that the Agricultural Revolution was a huge success for cows and chickens and pigs as a species, but it was a catastrophe for cows and chickens and pigs as individuals. This gap between evolutionary success on the one hand, and individual suffering on the other hand, is perhaps the most important lesson that can be drawn from the Agricultural Revolution. When we study the fortunes of animals such as cattle, sheep or homo sapiens that have a complex world with sensations and emotions, we have to consider not only evolutionary success, but also the impact on the lives of individuals.

6. Building Pyramids

6.1. Imagined reality


A Brief History of Humankind: Lecture 6.1

The Agricultural Revolution had a profound impact on humans and the societies they created. The most important result was the appearance of far more complex human societies than ever before. Foragers lived in small bands of a few dozen individuals, which sometimes belonged to tribes of several hundred or even thousands of people. In contrast, farmers lived their lives in villages and towns of hundreds and and even thousands of people. With time, they established large cities, kingdoms, and empires in which millions of people cooperated on a daily basis towards common goals.

One reason for this growth was that agriculture produces more food per given territory than hunting and gathering. The amount of available food is only a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition to build large cities, kingdoms, and empires. People must agree how to divide the food, how to divide the land and water, how to settle disputes and conflicts, and how to act in times of crisis like drought or war. If people cannot agree on such things, then conflict spreads even if the storehouses and granaries are full of food. It was not food shortages that caused most of the big wars and revolutions in history.

For example, the French Revolution was not led by famished peasants, but by lawyers who had enough to eat. Similarly the two world wars did not begin due to shortage of food in Germany or in France or Britain. The problem is that sapiens simply have no natural instincts for cooperating with large numbers of strangers. Humans have evolved for millions of years living in small bands comprising maybe of a few dozen individuals. There was simply not enough time to allow for mass cooperation instincts to evolve by natural selection. Sapiens had to rely on inventing all kinds of stories that could regulate cooperation on such a huge scale.

Farmers began to weave stories that eventually enabled millions of strangers to operate together. Around 8500 BC, the largest settlements in the world were villages such as Jericho which had a few hundreds of inhabitants at most. By 3000 BC, there were cities and kingdoms ruling tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of people. By the first millennium BC, there were empires like the Roman empire in the Mediterranean region and the Han empire in China. These cities, kingdoms and empires were based on the belief on common emergent realities and therefore the order that maintained them in existence.

This means that the social and legal norms that sustained these kingdoms and empires, and kept their society stable were based not on some natural instincts or personal acquaintance but on a belief in shared stories or shared imagined realities. Two of the best known myths that were fundamental for the establishment and maintenance of large social order were the Code of Hammurabi which was written around 1776 BC, which formed a basis for the social order of the ancient Babylonian empire, and the American Declaration of Independence from 1776 AD, which today is still the basis for the social order of the United States.

In 1776 BC, Babylon was the biggest city in the world and the Babylonian Empire was probably the largest political entity on the globe. Its king ruled more that one million subjects. In 1776 BC, the Babylonian King Hammurabi wrote the famous code of Hammurabi. It was a collection of laws and judicial decisions made by this king. The aim of the code was to present Hammurabi as a role model of a just king and to serve as a basis for a more uniform legal system across the Babylonian Empire. This was quite successful because for centuries, the intellectual and bureaucratic elites of Babylon studied and canonised this text.

The text begins by saying that the gods Anu, Enlil and Marduk, the leading gods of the Mesopotamian pantheon appointed Hammurabi to make justice prevail in the land, to abolish the wicked and the evil and to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak. It then lists about 300 examples of Hammurabi's justice, all according to a set formula that if such and such a thing happened, then this is what should be done.

If a superior man should blind the eye of another superior man, they should blind his eye. This is the famous 'an eye for an eye' of Hammurabi's code. If a superior man should blind the eye of the commoner or break the bone of a commoner, he should pay 60 shekels of silver in compensation. If a superior man should blind the eye of a slave, he should pay in the owner one half of the slave's value. If a superior man strikes a woman of a superior class and thereby causes her to miscarry, he should pay 10 silver shekels in compensation. If the woman dies, his daughter must be killed.

Hammurabi's code asserts that Babylonian social order is rooted in universal and eternal principle of justice. Dictated by the gods. Of paramount importance of all these principles is the principle of hierarchy. According to the Code of Hammurabi, people are divided into two genders, and three classes, which were superior people, commoners and slaves. Members of each gender and class have a different value. For example, the life of a female commoner was worth 30 silver shekels, a female slave only 20 silver shekels, and a male commoner was worth 60 silver shekels.

This code also established a strict hierarchy within families, according to which children were the property of their parents. This is why if one superior man killed the daughter of another superior man, the punishment was to execute the daughter of the killer. It seems strange and unthinkable now, but for Hammurabi and the Babylonians this seemed perfectly just. The Hammurabi code was established then on the assumption that if the king's subjects all accepted the principal of hierarchy, then all inhabitants of the empire would be able to cooperate effectively so that society would prosper, produce enough food for everyone, distribute it effectively and could protect itself against enemies, and could even expand its territories and acquire more and more wealth.

Thirteen British colonies in North America felt that the king of England was treating them in an unjust way. The representatives of these 13 colonies gathered in the city of Philadelphia, and on 4 July 1776 these colonies declared that their independence from the British crown. Their declaration of independence further proclaimed universal and eternal principles of justice which, like those of king Hammurabi, were supposed to be inspired by a divine power. Whereas the Babylonian gods supported the principle of inequality and hierarchy, the American Declaration of Independence says that we hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The American Declaration of Independence promises that if humans act according to its sacred principles, then millions of them would be able to live together, to cooperate effectively, and to create a safe and peaceful and prosperous society. Like the code of Hammurabi, the American Declaration of Independence was accepted by future generations, and even today more than 200 years after this declaration was made, American school children, millions of school children are still copying and learning this text by heart.

What are the basic principles of justice in society? These two texts present an obvious dilemma. Both claim to outline universal eternal divine principles of justice, but the principles are different. Neither the Babylonians nor the Americans are right in what they declare about justice. The only place in which justice exists is in the imagination of homo sapiens and in the stories that humans invent and tell one another and believe in. The idea is that all humans are equal to one another is a myth like the division of people into superiors, and commoners and slaves.

According to the science of biology, people evolved and did not evolve to be equal.Every person carries in his DNA a somewhat different genetic code and every person is exposed from birth to different environmental influences. This leads to the development of different qualities and these qualities mean different chances of survival in reproduction. Professor Harari argues that the idea of equality is inextricably linked with the idea of creation. Christianity argues that every person has a divinely created soul and that all the souls are equal before God. This is the origin of the idea that all humans are equal.

There is no such thing as rights in the natural world. Animals and humans have organs. Animals and humans have abilities and traits, but they do not have rights. Advocates of equality, human rights and democracy may argue that that people are not equal biologically, but if we believe that all humans are equal in essence, it will enable us to create a stable and prosperous society, so we better believe it. This is what scholars mean when they speak about imagined realities. We believe in a particular order, not because it is objectively true, but because believing in this imagined story enables us to cooperate effectively and to forge a stable society.

6.2. Imagined order


A Brief History of Humankind: Lecture 6.2

Complex societies, just like the simpler societies of foragers, are ultimately based on the human imagination, so there is a danger that the social order will collapse. This is why the social order of humans is far less stable than the social order of chimpanzees, wolves or ants and why humans have so many revolutions and upheavals in history. Still, the social order cannot be changing all the time. Otherwise it is not possible to build cities, states and empires. Therefore, humans invest a lot of effort and money in stabilising the social order and in stabilising the stories that uphold the social order.

Armies, police forces, courts and prisons force people to act in accordance with the imagined order. However, an imagined order cannot be sustained only by violence. It also requires some true believers. A single priest can do the work of 100 soldiers far more cheaply and effectively. Christianity would not have lasted for 2000 years just by violence and coercion. Christianity managed to last for quite a long time because most bishops, priests and popes really believed in the stories of the Bible and Jesus. Similarly, American democracy would not have lasted for 250 years unless most of the presidents and senators really believed in equality. In the economic sphere, the capitalist system would long ago crumbled if bankers and and heads of large corporations did not believe in the stories of capitalism.

We hear these stories in words, in fairy tales, as drama, as songs and as political propaganda. We also see, touch, smell and taste these fundamental stories in paintings, architecture, food fashions and clothing fashions. For example, people today in western countries believe in equality, so it is fashionable for rich kids and rich grownups to wear jeans. Jeans were originally the clothing of, of the working class. People in the Middle Ages did not believe in equality but in hierarchy and a nobleman would never wear the working clothes of peasants.

There are three main factors that prevent people from realising that the order which organises their lives and their society exists only in their imagination. First, society tries as much as possible to link the imagined order with the actual material reality. For example, most westerners today believe not only in equality, but also in individualism. The main idea of individualism is that each one of us, you and me, we have within ourselves some kind of brilliant ray of light that gives value and meaning to our lives. This story of individualism has had immense impact on modern architecture. Because we believe in, in individualism, the ideal modern house is divided into many, many small rooms so that each child could have a private space of his own or her own.

In the Middle Ages, noblemen did not believe in individualism. The mediaeval nobility believed that the true value of people is determined by their place in the social hierarchy, and by what other people are saying and thinking about them. Noblemen had to protect their honour, even at the price of their lives because their true value did not come from inside, but from what other people were thinking and saying about them. The castle of a mediaeval nobleman rarely had private rooms for individual children. There was no private space or private time which a teenage son of a mediaeval baron could be only with himself.

The second issue that helps to stabilise the imagined order is that the imagined order shapes our deepest desires and wishes. For example, a popular desire today to take a vacation abroad. There is nothing natural or obvious about this desire. A chimpanzee alpha male would never even dream of utilising his power in the chimpanzee band in order to go on vacation to the territory of a neighbouring chimpanzee band. Similarly, the elites of many human societies, such as the elite of ancient Egypt, thought about travelling for a summer and sailing to Babylon. People today, spend a great deal of time, effort and money on vacation abroad because they have programmed by the main stories of their societies to want such things.

People today are true believers in the stories of what scholars call the romantic consumerism. It is one of the most powerful stories today in the world. Romantic consumerism is a combination between two of the dominant late modern ideologies: romanticism and consumerism. Romanticism tells us that in order to make the most of your life, of your human potential, you must have as many different experiences as you can. Consumerism tells us that in order to be happy, you must consume as many products and services as possible, and if you feel that something is missing in your life then you probably need to buy a new product.

Every television commercial is another little legend about how consuming some product or some service will make your life better. Romanticism, which encourages a variety of experiences, combines perfectly with consumerism. The tourism industry does not sell flight tickets and hotel bedrooms, but experiences. The consumption of all these experiences is supposed to widen our horizons, to fulfil our own potential, and to make us happier. This is why, when for example, a multimillionaire and his wife quarrel with one another, he may take her on expensive vacation to Paris. A rich man in ancient Egypt would never have considered taking his wife on vacation to Babylon. He might have agreed to build the sumptuous tomb she always dreamed about.

Like the elites of ancient Egypt, most people in history, were very busy pursuing all kinds of projects to build pyramids. Only the names and sizes, and shapes of these pyramids changed from one society to the other. For example, these pyramids may take the form of a penthouse overlooking fifth avenue in New York or a suburban villa with a big swimming pool and lots of rooms and three cars. People are so busy pursuing these fantasies that they seldom stop to ask themselves why they believe in them in the first place.

The third thing that stabilises the imagined order is that it is embedded not only in the desires of a single person, but of countless people. Even if by some superhuman effort someone managed to free himself from the desire to go abroad to have a big house, it is just one person. In order to really change society, you have to convince millions of strangers to behave like you and to cooperate with you. The imagined order is not a subjective order existing in the imagination of only one person. Rather, the imagined order is an inter-subjective order that exists the shared imagination of thousands and even millions of people.

In order to understand what this means, something must be said about the difference between objective, subjective, and intersubjective. Objective is something that exists independently of human consciousness, and of what humans believe and invent, and tell one another. For example, a good example of something that has an objective existence is radio activity. Radioactivity is not a story that people invented and tell one another. Radioactivity existed and influenced people long before anybody knew about it. It exists and people who do not believe in it can die from it.

Subjective is something that exists depending on the consciousness and beliefs of a single individual. It will disappear or change if that particular individual changes his or her beliefs. For example, many children believe in the existence of an imaginary friend that only the child himself or herself can see and can talk to. Usually as the child grows up, he or she stops believing in this imaginary friend and the imaginary friend disappears. The imaginary friend is a subjective entity as it exists only in the imagination of a single child.

Intersubjective is something that exists within the communication network that links the subjective consciousness of many individuals. If a single individual changes his or her beliefs, or even dies, it is of little importance. However, if most individuals in the network die or change their beliefs, then the intersubjective phenomenon will mutate and change, or completely disappear. Many if not most of history's most important players are intersubjective entities. Gods, nations, human rights, money, and corporations are all intersubjective entities.

For example, Peugeot company is not is objective entity. It is not the imaginary friend only of the CEO of Peugeot. The company exists in the shared imagination of millions upon millions of people. After all, the CEO himself or herself believes in the existence of the company, because many other people also believe it, like the board of directors, the employees of the company, all the bankers and all the brokers on the stock exchange, and all the car dealers. Peugeot company does not depend on the belief of a single person, so the changing of belief of a single person will not alter it. Similarly, the US dollar, human rights, or the United States of America exist as intersubjective realities within the shared imagination of millions upon millions of individuals.

In order to really change intersubjective realities, the beliefs of millions of different individuals have to be changed. In order to do such a thing, the help of some big organisation is needed, such as a political party or a religion. Millions of people must cooperate in order to change one of those big intersubjective entities. This requires convincing millions of strangers to cooperate with one another. This will happen only if these strangers believe in some other shared myth. There is no way out of the imagined order. The only way to stop believing in one big story is to start believing in an even greater and more complicated story. This is how you build an effective imagined order, in which millions of people might believe for decades, centuries or millennia.

6.3. The language of numbers


A Brief History of Humankind: Lecture 6.3

After the Agricultural Revolution, as human societies began to grow larger and larger, two things happened. First, the amounts of necessary information also grew. To run a town of 5,000 people a lot more information is needed than to run a foraging band of 50 people. This is so much information that most human brains are simply incapable of handling it. Secondly, and even more importantly, to run a big town or a kingdom, completely new kinds of information must be stored, for which the average human brain is ill-adapted. This new kind of information is monotonous number data.

Ancient foragers had very little use for numbers. In order to survive a forager needed to remember the shapes, the qualities the behaviour patterns of thousands of species of plants and animals. The forager also needed to remember the qualities and the character, and the relations of several dozen band members. Consequently, evolutionary pressures for many, many generations have adapted the human brain for storing and analysing immense quantities of botanical information about plants, zoological information about animals, topographical information, and social information about humans.

Once cities and kingdoms began to rise, number data became vital. To maintain an empire, taxes must be collected. In order to collect taxes from hundreds of thousands of people, it was necessary to collect data about the income and possessions of all these people, data about payments which were already made, data about debts and fines and data about all kinds of discounts and exemptions. This adds up to millions and millions of data bits, which have to be stored and processed. Without this capacity, states could not know what resources they had at their disposal, and how they could utilise these resources.

Collecting and storing, and processing all this mathematical data is something that a vast majority of human brains are simply incapable of doing. This mental limitation severely constrained the size and the complexity of human collectives after the Agricultural Revolution. When the amount of people and property in a particular society grew too big, the system collapsed because nobody could process the necessary amounts of numerical data. For thousands of years after the Agricultural Revolution, human social networks remained relatively small and simple.

The ancient Sumerians, who lived in Southern Mesopotamia, were the first that managed to overcome this problem. In Southern Mesopotamia, large towns and even kingdoms began to grow around 4000 BC. As the number of inhabitants in these towns and kingdoms increased, so did the amount of information that was needed to coordinate their affairs and to a govern a city or the kingdom. Sometime between 3500 BC and 3000 BC, some unknown Sumerian geniuses invented writing for storing and processing information outside the brain. Writing was invented to store and process a lot of numerical data.

Tablet from Uruk, Mesopotamia
Tablet from Uruk, Mesopotamia
The image shows a clay tablet from the city of Uruk in southern Mesopotamia, which carries on it one of the first texts in history. The signs on the clay tablet state, as far as we can understand, 29,086 measures barley, 37 months, Kushim. The most probable meaning is that a total of 29,086 measures of barley were received over the course of 37 months, signed Kushim. Kushim could be either the title of an office holder or the name of the particular individual writing the text.

It may be the first recorded name in human history and it does not belong to a prophet, a poet, a philosopher or a great king, but to an accountant. The first texts of history were documents recording the payment of taxes, the accumulation of property, and the ownership of property. With the passing of the centuries, writing became more sophisticated, and people began to write not only tax lists and property lists but also poetry, philosophy, laws and sacred scriptures.

This is even more valid today. The dominant language of the entire world is the language of numbers. Almost all states, companies, organisations, and institutions, no matter if they speak English, or Arabic, or Hindi, or Norwegian. They all use the same language of numbers to record and process data. Every piece of information that can be translated into numbers is stored and spread and processed with amazing speed and efficiency. A person who really wishes to influence the decisions of governments and companies must learn to speak in numbers.

Equation for acceleration in theory of relativity
Equation for acceleration in theory of relativity
There are entire fields of knowledge, such as physics and engineering, that have already lost almost all connection with the spoken human language. And they are maintained almost entirely by mathematical script. The image shows an equation for calculating the acceleration of mass I under the influence of gravity according to the theory of relativity. When most people see such an equation, they usually panic and freeze. It is simply that with rare exceptions, human brains are incapable of thinking through concepts like relativity or quantum mechanics.

Physicists nevertheless managed to engage with all these ideas and theories because they learned to set a side the traditional human ways of thinking. They learn instead to think with the help of an external data processing systems, like writing, equations, and computers. Calculations in physics take place not in the head of the, of the physicist but inside computers or on the blackboards of classrooms or on paper where people do all these equations because they cannot do it in their heads. Their brains are not built for this.

7. There Is No Justice in History

7.1. Introduction


A Brief History of Humankind: Lecture 7.1

Understanding human history in the millennia following the Agricultural Revolution boils down to a single main question. How did humans organise themselves in mass corporation networks when they lack the biological instincts that are necessary to sustain such networks? The short answer to this question is that humans created imagined orders and invented writing and these two together fill the gaps left by our biological inheritance. The appearance of these mass corporation networks like big cities, kingdoms and empires, was for many individual humans a dubious blessing because the imagined order that sustained these kingdoms and empires were neither neutral nor fair.

They divided people into all kinds of imaginary groups and arranged these groups in a hierarchy. The upper level grouped enjoyed privileges and power and wealth, whereas the low ranking one suffered from discrimination and depression. All known complex societies have been divided into such hierarchies of groups. There are many variations on the same theme. In some places and eras people were divided according to caste. In other places and periods, people were divided according to race or according to religion or according to wealth. Often several such divisions were employed at one and the same time by the same society.

For example, if someone is going to marry in traditional Hindu society, then first and most important thing that he or she wants to know about this person, is to which caste the potential spouse belongs. People who believe in the particular hierarchy of groups, like the caste system in India, tend to claim that this hierarchy is natural and inevitable. Racists, for example, argue that there are real biological differences between Africans, Europeans, Chinese and Aboriginal Australians. Hindu's who adhere to the traditional caste system similarly believe that cosmic forces and not human imagination are responsible for the division of the castes.

According to a famous Hindu creation myth, the gods fashioned the world out of the body of a primaeval mythological being, the Purusha. According to this story, the sun was created from the eye of the Purusha and the moon was created from the Purusha's brain. The Brahmins, the priests, the highest caste, were created, according to this story, from the mouth of the Purusha. Kshatriyas, the warrior class, were created from the arms of the Purusha. The Vaishyas, the peasants and merchants, were created from the thigh of the Purusha and the Sudras. The servants and the slaves were created from the legs of the Purusha.

Today, capitalists believe that hierarchy of wealth reflects real differences in the ability and qualities of people. They believe that the rich have more money and privileges because they are more intelligent and hard, hard working, and this is how they became rich. So according to the capitalists no one should be bothered if the rich get better health care, better education and better nutrition because they have earned it. However, to the best of our understanding today, all these hierarchies are the product of human imagination and human stories that do not reflect any natural order.

The distinction between the different casts was created by lows and norms that people who lived in northern India three thousand years ago invented between blacks and whites. Most people today are taught to be outraged by the idea of a racial hierarchy and laws that prohibit blacks to live in white neighbourhoods or to be treated in white hospitals. However, the hierarchy of rich and poor that causes rich people to live in separate and more luxurious neighbourhoods, to study at separate and better schools, to receive medical treatment in separate and better hospitals, seems perfectly normal.

Yet it is a proven fact that most rich people are rich for the very simple reason that they are born into a rich family, not because they have some superior skills, while most poor people will remain poor throughout their lives simply because they were born into a poor family. It does not really reflect their abilities and characters.

Some societies suffered for more extreme types of discrimination than other societies. Yet scholars do not know about any complex society anywhere in history that was able to organise and maintain itself without some kind of imagined hierarchy and some kind of discrimination. This is because all these imagined classifications and hierarchies serve an important social function. They enable complete strangers to know how to treat one another without wasting the time and energy that are needed to become personally acquainted.

For instance, an 18th century Jewish rabbi in Poland accepted only Jewish men and not Jewish women or people who are not Jews. A guru in a traditional Hindu community accepted only men from the Brahmin caste. A prestigious private American university today will accept only rich people because only they can pay the tuition fees. Many people live in cities of millions of people and they have to know how to treat all the strangers that they meet while walking down the street without really knowing them. We treat differently people who are dressed in suits and people who are dressed in rags. We treat differently men and women. We treat differently people with specific religious signs.

Differences in natural abilities also play some role in the formation of social distinctions. However, such differences in natural abilities are usually mediated through the imagined hierarchies of our society. This happens in two important ways. First and foremost, most of the abilities of people have to be nurtured and developed even if somebody is born with a particular talent like playing football or doing business. Secondly, even if people belonging to different classes somehow develop exactly the same abilities, still they are unlikely to enjoy equal chances of success because they will have to play the game by different rules.

For example, suppose that in 19th century British India, four people, one is an untouchable from the lowest segment of Indian society, the second is a Brahmin, the highest caste of Indian society, the third is a Protestant Englishman, and the fourth is a Catholic Irishman, somehow managed to develop exactly the same business skills. Still, they would not have the same chance of being successful and becoming rich because the economic game in 19th century India was rigged by all kinds of legal restrictions and norms that favoured Hindu Brahmins and Protestant Englishmen and disadvantaged untouchables and Irish Catholics.

7.2. Historical accidents determine social structures


A Brief History of Humankind: Lecture 7.2

In most cases the hierarchy that dominated in a particular society originated as a result of some accidental historical circumstances and was then simply perpetuated over many generations. For example, many scholars believe that the Hindu caste system took shape for the first time when people from Central Asia invaded the Indian subcontinent about 3,000 years ago and subjugated the local population. The invaders established a stratified society in which they occupied the leading positions, such as kings, priests and warriors. The natives were left with the less privileged positions of working as servants, and peasants and slaves.

The invaders were much fewer in number than the local population, and they feared that over time they might lose their unique identity and their privileged status. To prevent this, they divided the population into castes. Each caste was required to perform a specific role in society. Each caste had a different legal status, different privileges, and different duties. Mixing of castes, whether it was by social interaction, marriage or even sharing bills together, was prohibited in order to preserve this distinction of castes. This became an integral part of Hindu religion, Hindu mythology, and Hindu practise.

In order to give legitimacy to this social system of caste stratification, the ruling elite tried to convince everybody, including itself, that this caste system was not a human invention meant to safeguard the privileges of the invaders, but that it reflected some kind of cosmic order and that its purpose was to protect society against impurity. This idea of basing a social hierarchy on concepts of purity and impurity was not unique to the ancient Hindus. It happened again and again throughout history. When people tried to establish and maintain social segregation, they often did so by arguing that a particular group of people is impure.

This idea is very powerful because it is actually rooted in biological reality. People have have been given by a long evolutionary process a fear of polluting themselves by coming in contact with all kinds of things that might cause them diseases, like dead bodies, rotten corpses, or bad food. All kinds of religions and social systems hijacked these biological mechanisms of developing disgust towards something and turned it against certain groups of people. This was also the basis for the formation of the Hindu caste system. The caste system evolved over the 3,000 years that it existed. At the beginning there were just four castes, but over the centuries, they were divided into all kinds of subcastes. Also new castes were added. Now the Hindu caste system includes about 3,000 castes.

Castes are called jati which literally means birth because someone's caste is determined by birth. Every person is born into a particular caste and any infringement on the rules of the jati will pollute the person and may pollute society in general. A person's jati determined his or her profession, where he or she could work, what he or she could do, what kind of food he or she should eat, where he or she should live, and whom he or she could marry. Even today in the early 21st century, 3,000 years after the invasion from Central Asia. Matters of marriage and career in modern India are still heavily influenced by the caste system.

The story of race in the United States has many similarities. Also in America it all started with a chance historical event. It was the European conquest of America and the importation of millions of African slaves to work in the mines and plantations of America. The Europeans chose to import African slaves because the local Indians died in millions from diseases Europeans brought with them. Africa was close to America. Furthermore, there already existed a very well-developed slave trade. Muslim slave traders from North Africa and the Middle East had developed a lively trade in African slaves which were exported from Central Africa.

When Europeans wanted to import slaves, it was much easier to come to an existing market and buy the slaves than to create a completely new slave market from scratch. Perhaps most important reason why they chose to import African slaves, is that American plantations of sugar, cotton, and coffee, were mostly located in tropical areas of America like Tahiti, Brazil, Louisiana, and Virginia. These tropical areas were plagued by tropical diseases such as malaria and yellow fever which had originated in Africa. Europeans did not have immunity against these tropical diseases. Africans, on the other hand, they had at least partial immunity.

Due to these accidental factors, the new colonial societies of America came to be divided into a ruling class of white Europeans and a subjugated group of black Africans. In order to justify this kind of arrangement, the European masters invented all kinds of stories. European theologians told that Africans descended from Ham, son of the biblical Noah. Ham was cursed by his father Noah that his offspring would be slaves so it was okay to enslave Africans. Biologists argued that it was okay to enslave black Africans because blacks are less intelligent than whites and have a less developed moral sense.

Doctors argued that blacks spread diseases and live in worse hygienic conditions. They saw blacks as a source of pollution and therefore they had to be kept apart from whites. This was another explanation given to the racial system in America. These stories continued to exert influence long after the conditions that created slavery disappeared. People in the United States continued to believe in racial segregation. In the early 19th century the British Empire outlawed slavery and stopped the Atlantic slave trade. In the following decades more and more slave-owning societies in America abolished slavery.

In 1865 all the slaves in the Southern states became legally free and equal citizens to European Americans, but the racist mythology that justified slavery persisted. Separation of whites and blacks was continued to be maintained by these racist ideologies and by the social customs. Blacks had a smaller chance of getting a good education and of getting a well paid job than whites. But they did not only have an economic disadvantage. The stigma of these people prevented them from getting a good job, not to mention marrying somebody from a white family. After centuries of slavery and racial ideology most whites and even quite a few blacks took it as fact that blacks were less intelligent, more violent, more lazy, and less concerned about personal hygiene than whites.

Blacks in the late 19th century and early 20th century in the Southern United States were prevented from voting in elections. They were forbidden to study in schools with white children. They were forbidden to buy in stores of white people. They were forbidden to eat in white restaurants and to sleep in white hotels. The justification for all these prohibitions was that blacks were dirty, lazy and dangerous, so whites had to be protected from them. They had to be protected from being polluted. The justification for preventing blacks from voting in the elections was that blacks are ignorant and less smart than whites.

By the mid 20th century segregation in the Southern United States was probably worse than it was in the late 19th century. With time these anti black stigmas spread to more and more cultural arenas, even aesthetics. For example, American aesthetic culture embraced a standard of beauty which was built around white qualities. The physical attributes of the white race, for example, light skin, light hair, straight hair and a small upturned nose, came to be identified in American society as beautiful. The typical features of blacks, like dark skin, dark and bushy hair, and a flattened nose, were increasingly seen as ugly. This vicious circle which originated in a chance event perpetuated itself, and became more and more deeply embedded.

Things eventually began to change in the 1950s and 1960s. Over the last few decades there have been immense efforts to overcome racial prejudices and distinctions in American society and politics. Despite all these efforts, the gap between African Americans and European Americans, is still significant. The sad truth about history is that over time unjust discrimination against a particular group of people often gets worse, not better. The biological distinctions between different groups of humans are, as far as we know today, very small. Biology cannot explain the caste system in India or the racial system in America. We can understand these phenomena only by studying the events, circumstances, and power relations that over time transformed the imagination of people into social structures.

7.3. Differences between men and women


A Brief History of Humankind: Lecture 7.3

In the previous segment we saw the different societies in history adopted different kinds of, social distinctions and imagined hierarchies. The hierarchy of gender, however, was of supreme importance in almost all known human societies, and everywhere men were given a superior position in society to women. Women were simply considered to be the property of men. In many legal systems throughout history the rape of a woman was considered the violation of property. The victim of rape was, according to the legal system, not the woman being raped, but the man who owned her and then owned defective property.

For example, the Bible says in Deuteronomy chapter 22, verses 28 to 29, that if a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed to anybody, and seizes her and lies with her and they are found, then the man who laid with her shall give to the father of the young woman 50 shekels of silver and she shall be his wife. The ancient Hebrews considered this to be a very reasonable and just arrangement. It is telling that according to most legal system in history if a husband raped his own wife, this was not considered a crime at all as a husband was meant to have full control of his wife's sexuality.

At least some of the cultural, legal, and political differences between men and women really reflect biological differences between the sexes and are not just pure imagination. For example, child bearing, has been considered woman's job in all human societies in history, for the simple reason that men do not have wombs. Around this kernel of biological differences between men and women, every society in history accumulated many cultural ideas and norms that have very little to do with biology. Societies associate a host of qualities and tasks and duties with masculinity and with femininity that for the most part lack a biological basis.

For instance, in democratic Athens in the fifth century BC, women could not vote for any of the offices of the state. They also could not be elected for any of the offices of the state. Ancient Athenians thought that it is natural to exclude women from politics because women do not have the necessary intelligence and moral standards to do such things. In many societies today around the world, including modern Greece, it is common to argue that men should not have sex with other men. There are many cultures in human history, most notably ancient Greece, in which homosexuality was not only common but also normative and legal.

How can then we distinguish between what is determined by biology from what people merely try to justify through biological stories and myth? A good rule of thumb is that biology enables but culture forbids. Biology is willing to tolerate a wide spectrum of possibilities of different behaviour. It is culture that obliges people to realise some of the possibilities that biology opens up while forbidding others. For example, biology enables women to have children but it does not force women to have children. Similarly, biology enables men to have sex with one another.

Our concepts of natural and unnatural are not taken from biology but from monotheist theology. The theological meaning of natural, which is very different from the biological meaning, is something which is in accordance with the intentions of God who created nature. This is theology and just a story that people invented. According to biology, the human body was shaped by evolutionary processes. When evolution creates an organ through natural selection, it has no intentions and purposes. Hands and feet, for example, evolved from the fins of fish.

King Louis XIV of France
King Louis XIV of France
This line of reasoning also applies to our sexual organs and sexual behaviour. Sex first evolved for procreation and courtship rituals evolved initially as a way of examining the fitness of a potential mate. However, many animals evolved to use both sex and courtship rituals for a multitude of social purposes that have very little to do procreation. Chimpanzees, for example, use sex in order to cement political alliances, to establish intimacy, and to diffuse tensions between individuals in the band. Much sexual activity in chimpanzee band does not result in the birth of little chimpanzees.

To make things clearer, scholars usually distinguish between sex Which is a biological category, and gender, which is a cultural category. Sex is the division between males and females. The qualities of this division are objective and based on the biological reality and have remained fairly constant throughout history. All you need to do in order to be a male is to have XY chromosomes. Gender is divided, not between males and females, but between men and women. In order to be a man, instead of just being a male, you also need to behave in a certain way that your society decides, to work in certain jobs and not others, to dress in a certain way and not in other ways. This is what scholars call masculinity.

An official portrait of King Louis XIV of France shows that he has a long wig, wears stockings, high heel shoes and he stands in some kind of dancer's posture. He also sports a very big sword. Today in Europe or in America, all these features, the wig, the stockings, and the high heels, except for the sword, would be considered feminine not masculine. But in the time of Louis XIV around the year 1700 this was customary for upper class men to dress like this and Louis was considered a paragon of manhood and virility. All the men wanted to be like Louis XIV 300 years ago.

President Obama of the United States
President Obama of the United States
Twenty-first century masculinity is reflected in official portraits of President Barack Obama of the United States. In the twenty-first century we are used to thinking that this is the masculine way of dressing. The way that men look in modern western society is very strange. Men never looked so grey and dull and dreary as they look in modern western society. For most of history in most cultures, men, and particularly very powerful men like the chiefs and kings, have always been very colourful and flamboyant in the way that they dress and look.

For example, American Indian chiefs had many feathers in their hair. Hindu Maharajas were always dressed in silks, diamonds and furs. Also in the animal kingdom, males tend to be much more colourful than females. It is a cultural norm that real men in the modern west wear only very simple, grey clothes, and never use makeup. Throughout human history males have been willing to risk and sacrifice their lives, just so that people would say that he is a real man.

To be a man or a woman is difficult and demanding undertaking since most of the masculine and feminine qualities are cultural and not biological. Females spend enormous amounts of time and energy each day just to convince everybody around them that they are feminine enough, that they behave according and dress and look according to the present day ideal of femininity. Similarly, males spend much of their lives engaged in all kinds of dramas and conflicts and competitions, just in order to prove that they are real men.

No matter how a society defined what it is to be a man and what it is to be a woman, to be a man was always better. This is what scholars mean when they speak about patriarchal societies or patriarchy. A patriarchal society is a society that values what it sees as masculine qualities more than it values what it considers to be feminine qualities. Societies educate males to think and act in a masculine way. Women are are supposed to think, act and dress in a feminine way. Anyone who tries to cross the boundaries between the genders will be punished.

With very few exceptions all known human societies in history, at least since agricultural evolution, were patriarchal societies. Almost all known human societies gave men political, economic and legal privileges and discriminated against women. Patriarchy did not result from some chance occurrence like the Indian caste system. Because patriarchy is so universal, it is likely that there is some universal biological reason why almost all cultures valued manhood more than they valued womanhood and valued masculine qualities more than feminine qualities.

7.4. Reasons for male dominance


A Brief History of Humankind: Lecture 7.4

It is not known what the universal biological reason is why almost all known human societies were patriarchal. There are plenty of theories about it but none of these theories is completely convincing. The most common theory points out that men are physically stronger than women so they can force women into submission. A more subtle version of this same theory argues that the strength of men allowed them to monopolise certain economic tasks that demanded hard manual labour, like ploughing the fields or harvesting. This gave men control of food production and control of the economy, which translated into political power.

There are two main problems with this idea. First of all, men are stronger than women on average. Women often have greater stamina than men and women are generally more resistant to hunger, disease, and fatigue than men. Secondly, and more importantly, there simply is no direct relation between physical strength and social power among homo sapiens, among humans. For example, older people usually held much more political power than young people, even though young people are much stronger physically than their elders. Slaves working in the fields were much stronger physically than the owners of the plantations.

Political dominance generally resided with the person who had the best social skills not with the person who had the most powerful muscles. Even among Chimpanzees, the Alpha male wins his position by building a stable coalition with other males and other females not just through violence. Human history shows that there is often an inverse relation between physical power and social power. In most societies in history it was the lower classes who did the difficult physical manual labour. Miners, soldiers, slaves, housewives and cleaners use much more physical power than kings, priests, managers, judges and generals.

The same applies to the position of Homo Sapiens as a species within the food chain. If all that counted was just raw physical force, sapiens would have found themselves somewhere in the middle of the food chain. But the mental and social skills of sapiens place them at the top. It is therefore only natural that the chain of power within the species itself will also be determined mainly by mental and social abilities. It is therefore very hard to believe that the most important, most stable hierarchy in human history is founded simply on the ability of men to beat up women.

Another theory explains that the dominance of men over women results not from mere strength, but from a more aggression. According to this theory, men have evolved to become more willing to engage in physical violence than women. This is why throughout history warfare was a monopoly of men. Men were the warriors. They used their control of armies and their control of war and warfare in order to gain control of civil society as well. They used their control of civil society to engender more wars, which made their control of warfare even more important. This is how they strengthened themselves.

Recent studies indicate that the hormonal and cognitive systems of men and women are somewhat different and that men by nature are indeed more violent. Therefore men are really better suited to serve as common soldiers than women. It does not follow from this that the ones who manage the war overall should be men too. Throughout history, there was a very big gap between the generals and the politicians and the common soldiers. Somebody who was a common soldier would never become a general and the general was never a common soldier early in his career.

For example in Europe in the early modern period, the common soldiers were usually recruited from among the poorest portions of society, often from ethnic minorities. For example, the British army recruited a lot of Irish Catholics. The senior ranks were reserved from early on to all the dukes and princes and kings who never served in the army as common soldiers. The question remains why only noble men and not noble women occupied the higher ranks in the army and politics.

Big wars are usually very complex and require an extraordinary degree of organisation, cooperation and of appeasement, which is the ability to make compromises in order to maintain peace at home and to make alliances with other people abroad. It also requires the ability to understand what goes through the mind of other people, particularly what goes through the mind of the enemy. An aggressive muscle man is often the worst choice for such a role. Women are usually considered to be much better manipulators and appeasers than men. Women are also famed for the superior ability to see things from the perspective of others.

The third common theory for the rise of patriarchal societies explains that through millions of years of evolution, men and women evolved different survival and reproduction strategies. Men competed with one another for access to fertile women. A man's chance of reproducing and passing his genes to the next generation depended above all on his ability to defeat and to outperform other men. Hence, the masculine genes that made it to the next generation were those that belonged to the most ambitious.

A woman on the other hand had no problem finding a man that was willing to impregnate her. During the time of pregnancy and child care a woman had fewer opportunities to obtain food and required a lot of help. According to this theory, the woman needed a man. In order to ensure her own survival and of her children, a woman had little choice but to agree to whatever conditions the men stipulated so that he would stay around and share some of the burden. According to this theory, the feminine genes that made it to the next generation belonged to the women who were the most submissive caretakers.

This theory too has very big problems. One problem is particularly important to understand. It is the assumption that the dependence of women on external help while being pregnant and taking care of children made them dependent upon men and not on other women. The assumption that male competitiveness made them socially dominant is not not very logical or natural at all. There are many species of animals, such as elephants and bonobo chimpanzees, where the dynamics between dependent females and competitive males result in the formation of matriarchal societies.

Since female elephants and bonobo chimpanzees need a lot of help, they develop social skills, learn how to cooperate with others and how to appease. They construct a female social network that help all of them to raise their children but they do not seek help from men. The males of elephants and bonobo chimpanzees spend much of their time fighting and competing and their social bonds remain underdeveloped. The result is that the society of bonobo chimpanzees and elephants is controlled by strong networks of cooperative females whereas the uncooperative and aggressive males are pushed to the sidelines.

Now if this happened among elephants and bonobo chimpanzees why did it not happen among homo-sapiens too? The secret of success of homo sapiens is the ability to cooperate well in large numbers. How did it happen that in the one species of animal, whose success depends above all on cooperation, individuals who are supposedly less cooperative, that is men, control individuals who are supposedly more cooperative, that is women. At present this question of why men have dominated women throughout history remains one of the biggest unsolved riddles of history.