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Socialism is an archaic and regressive behaviour

By David Archibald - posted Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Humans split off from the chimpanzee line about six million years ago. We are said to share 98 percent of our DNA with chimpanzees, though we are far more intelligent. That much higher intelligence comes at a considerable cost, though, in terms of the energy investment in taking children from childbirth to late adolescence. In human adults the brain takes a very high share of both the basal metabolic rate (20 percent) and total energy expenditure (10 percent), although it is only 2 percent of body mass. In children, those rates are three times higher: 50–70 percent and 30–50 percent respectively. In fact, the brain of a child between the ages of four and nine consumes roughly 50 per cent more energy than the adult brain. Human beings are unique among mammals in having very slow body growth in childhood followed by an adolescent growth spurt.

Instead of bands being organised in male and female hierarchies as in the other apes, our predecessors adopted the pair-bond to ensure that at least two people were devoted to supplying infants with food. But even that wasn't enough. We had also evolved to have a high proportion of meat in our diet. Not all hunting trips are successful though. If enough days pass without a successful hunt, the pair-bond's infant might suffer brain damage or die.

Our ancestors got around that problem by adopting group food-pooling behaviour which made food more reliably available for individuals by buffering them against the daily variability in their own foraging success. This was crucial to survival as the high-energy foods sought by human foragers are patchy in their distribution. One consequence of food pooling is the nutritional homogeneity among hunter-gatherers. Body mass index and body fat percentage vary very little within a group. This equal access to resources across the forager band has the effect of equalizing the growth of its children irrespective of any advantages possessed by their parents. By comparison, there is a wide variation in the size of chimpanzee infants, related to the foraging success of their parents.


Our forebears had rules and expectations about how large game was to be shared in the group. In one hunter-gatherer band studied by anthropologists, 56% of conversations involved norm enforcement criticisms, of which half concerned sharing or obligations. Of these, 22% involved mocking, joking or pantomime, 41% outright complaint or criticism, 35% harsh criticism and 2% actual violence.

At the hunter-gatherer stage of human evolution, it might seem as if human beings are genetically hardwired for socialism-everything is shared, and nobody gets ahead no matter how much effort they make. But thankfully, human evolution kept going. Increased juvenile brain development resulted in adults who could obtain more energy through better foraging. This created a positive feedback loop that enabled an evolutionary jump to a cognition-dependent ability to acquire food at a much higher rate.

About fifty thousand years ago, language developed to enable more sophisticated and effective coordination in forager groups. Culture, including religion, developed in response to evolutionary pressures. Evolution continued, with the foraging group occasionally shrinking down towards the pair-bond. Selection pressure at the pair-bond level was able to overcome the group food-pooling effect. If a woman was not careful about the man she married, then he might not come back from the hunt-and everyone died.

The big civilizational jump which allowed humanity to leave our hardwired-for-socialism past was the development of agriculture. Growing and harvesting crops meant that the pair-bond could store food and even out the results of foraging and hunting. Also importantly, success was directly proportional to effort. This was the beginning of private property, capital formation, division of labour and all the other good things that led to the level of civilisation we enjoy now.

Humans and our predecessor apes had been stuck at the group food-pooling level for a couple of million years. As the stone tool kits from those times show, there was very little progress in those millennia before individual reward for effort.

There is a notion that conservatism is a more backward stage of human organisation than socialism, as well as being red in tooth and claw. The opposite is true. Socialism, which is group food-pooling behaviour, is a regressive way of social organisation that was largely abandoned with the invention of agriculture ten thousand years ago. Conservatives have the high moral ground. Socialists are jealous, less-productive apes by comparison. That, and being throw-backs.

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About the Author

David Archibald, is a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, DC. He is the author of The Twilight of Abundance: Why Life in the 21st Century Will Be Nasty, Brutish, and Short (Regnery, 2014).

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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