You may remember the vague speculation in my earlier Cutty Sark post about community being traditionally much more important to human beings than competition, and therefore being something we always reach back to even though contemporary society has more or less destroyed it. Well, as luck would have it I was beginning the somewhat daunting task of reading Chris Harman’s free e-book “A People’s History of the World” (all 728 pages of it) and discovered that he covered some of the same ground.
In the prologue (yes, OK, I’m a slow reader), he points out that things have not always been as they are (“greed, gross inequalities between rich and poor, racist and national chauvinist prejudice, barbarous practices and horrific wars”). He quotes anthropologist Richard Lee:
It is the long experience of egalitarian sharing that has moulded our past. Despite our seeming adaptation to life in hierarchical societies, and despite the rather dismal track record of human rights in many parts of the world, there are signs that humankind retains a deeprooted sense of egalitarianism, a deep-rooted commitment to the norm of reciprocity, a deep-rooted…sense of community.
Sometimes I need a little perspective. It’s so easy to believe that things will always be this way and have always been this way. I find it a constant struggle to remember that, as Harman says in answering Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis and similar idiocies,
It would be remarkable indeed if a way of running things that has existed for less than 0.5 percent of our species’ lifespan were to endure for the rest of it—unless that lifespan is going to be very short indeed.
I hope I get to read the remaining 690-odd pages of his book before our species’ lifespan runs out. I hate it when the ending is spoilt.