Hunting and gathering is an occupation, a way of making a living, not a social organization. The social organization of hunter-gatherers (and of many agricultural peoples as well) was the tribe. Is the tribe the “ideal” social organization for humans? “Ideal” is the wrong word.

The tribe is no more the ideal social organization for humans than the flock is the ideal social organization for geese or the hive is the ideal social organization for bees. Rather, it’s the social organization that survived the test of natural selection; it’s what worked for humans for millions of years, just as the flock and the hive have worked for geese and for bees for millions of years.

You can say that, over the millions of years of human evolution, many other social organizations may have been tried, but none survived. In this sense, tribalism can be said to be evolutionarily stable for humans; a better social organization never emerged through the process of natural selection. Thus a better term for it than “ideal” would be “very unlikely to be improvable.” But it has nothing to do with hunting and gathering.

As I say, many Leaver peoples (all tribal) were agriculturalists, and most who survive today are agriculturalists. The various social organizations that the people of our culture have tried have been very short-lived, primarily because they have been hierarchical rather than tribal, producing a society in which a few at the top have a wonderful life, a larger number in the middle have a pretty good life, and the masses at the bottom have a poor life—inherently unsatisfactory.

In tribal societies everyone has the same life—good when times are good and bad when times are bad. In bad times in our society the people at the top continue to have a wonderful life while life gets even worse for the masses at the bottom. (For more about all this, see Beyond Civilization.)

ID: 544
posted: 26 Feb 2002
updated: 02 Apr 2002

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