Egalitarian civilisations 'are weaker' than those with inequality

This will all be familiar to students of dominance hierarchies in the animal kingdom. In such hierarchies the territories of dominant animals expand as food becomes short and the weaker animals simply get pushed out to die. So the survivors of a stressful situation are always the strongest and fittest animals in the group -- which is good for the survival of the group and too bad about its weaker members. Konrad Lorenz is the best known writer in that field

Societies with entrenched class systems thrive better than those with a strong egalitarian streak, suggests new research from the U.S. When the lower end of society has less than the upper classes, it makes people more likely to emigrate in search of better conditions, according to the team at California's Stanford University.

The team used a computer simulation to model two factors - stability and rates of migration for two types of society, one 'egalitarian', and one unequal. The results make surprising reading.

In the 'stratified' cultures, with a rigid class structures, shortages of food or money affected the poorer people more, while those at the top were less affected and social hierarchies remained intact.

The survival of the ruling class - and the social structure that put them in place - meant that such societies could adapt more quickly. By comparison, in societies which operate along more equal lines, deprivation is shared between the population. They bear the impact more widely and are thus less able to adapt, and slower to recover.

'The fact that unequal societies outnumber egalitarian societies may not be due to the replacement of the ethic of equality by a more selfish ethic,' as originally thought,' said cultural evolution specialist Deborah Rogers, lead author of the study. 'Stratified (unequal) societies simply spread and took over, crowding out the unequal populations.' This difference in 'survivability' was most easily seen in the early stages of human societies.

'This is the first study to demonstrate a specific mechanism by which stratified societies may have taken over most of the world,' Marcus Feldman, an evolutionary biologist at Stanford.

'Inequalities in socioeconomic status are increasing sharply around the world. Understanding the causes and consequences of inequality and how to reduce it is one of the central challenges of our time.'

That means the unequal cultures grow and spread across the globe, while the equal culture is displaced, adding to the list of reasons why communism failed as a societal model when faced with capitalism.

The research, published in the science journal PLoS ONE, leads to the galling suggestion that the 'bankers bonus' culture ultimately keeps our society strong by a driving sickened and struggling public away in search of a better life.

The research paper grew out of PhD work by the cultural evolution specialist Deborah Rogers, though she is now a researcher at the United Nations University in Bonn, Germany.

Various theories have been put forward for the development of inequality and hierarchical societies in the early years of human civilisation, with some suggesting it was to do with control of crop irrigation systems, while others have said it occurred slowly as a result of small differences in wealth due to inheritance.


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