Difference between relative and chronometric absolute dating techniques
It goes something a little like this: As the curtain goes up on human history – say, roughly two hundred thousand years ago, with the appearance of anatomically modern – we find our species living in small and mobile bands ranging from twenty to forty individuals.
They seek out optimal hunting and foraging territories, following herds, gathering nuts and berries.
Mainstream social science now seems mobilized to reinforce this sense of hopelessness.
Almost on a monthly basis we are confronted with publications trying to project the current obsession with property distribution back into the Stone Age, setting us on a false quest for ‘egalitarian societies’ defined in such a way that they could not possibly exist outside some tiny band of foragers (and possibly, not even then).
That is the real political message conveyed by endless invocations of an imaginary age of innocence, before the invention of inequality: that if we want to get rid of such problems entirely, we’d have to somehow get rid of 99.9% of the Earth’s population and go back to being tiny bands of foragers again.
Otherwise, the best we can hope for is to adjust the size of the boot that will be stomping on our faces, forever, or perhaps to wrangle a bit more wiggle room in which some of us can at least temporarily duck out of its way.
Civilization meant many bad things (wars, taxes, bureaucracy, patriarchy, slavery…) but also made possible written literature, science, philosophy, and most other great human achievements.
This is important because the narrative also defines our sense of political possibility.
Most see civilization, hence inequality, as a tragic necessity.
What we’re going to do in this essay, then, is two things.
First, we will spend a bit of time picking through what passes for informed opinion on such matters, to reveal how the game is played, how even the most apparently sophisticated contemporary scholars end up reproducing conventional wisdom as it stood in France or Scotland in, say, 1760.
The story we have been telling ourselves about our origins is wrong, and perpetuates the idea of inevitable social inequality.