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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Want to Live in a More Free World? Space Your Children Five Years Apart!

Robert Kelly's book, The Lifeways of Hunter Gatherers: The Foraging Spectrum, attempts to answer a question I have been seeking an answer to for a long time: What is the actual ORIGIN of political order? Or as this book correctly calls it – hierarchy. Mobile hunter gatherers are almost always hard-core egalitarians. When and why did that change? Who was the first person to accept inequality and why on Earth did he?

The author postulates that there are four things that had to be in place for a society to morph from people who are disgusted by status-seeking behavior to people who live in social hierarchies with political dominance, inequality and hereditary leadership.

1) Sedentism: People choose to settle when there is an abundant renewable resource, and they don't need to move, like a river with a consistent supply of fish.

2) A controllable resource: Like a bend in a river with a great fishing spot that the tribe can guard.

3) A resource that must be controlled: If the tribe follows their hunter-gatherer ethos of allowing anyone to come fish as much as they like, they themselves would starve, so they MUST control the resource.

This is how the first lower class of people happened. Group A has maximized the amount of people that can live happily around this one fishing hole. Group B suffers some calamity and comes seeking food from group A. In order to motivate group A to share, B offers to gives half of what they catch back to group A. Group B is paying taxes. And group A doesn't have to work as hard as they used to. Suddenly inequality exists.

And finally, the most interesting factor and the reason I am posting this:

4) Child spacing: Mobile hunter gatherers space their children around five years apart, sedentary peoples tend to have children every two years. When this change happens, the group ethos change because children get less attention from their parents, especially their fathers, and are raised largely by their siblings rather than a community.

In mobile groups there is rarely more than one person of every age, so there is little competition between children. (When a two-year-old is going through his "mine" phase, he can be completely indulged because there are no other two-year-olds to fight with.) When a mom has two kids under the age of five, personalities shift and become more competitive and also less egalitarian. I have long thought there was a self-esteem issue in status-seeking behavior as well. It makes sense that children who get all of their parents attention until they are five have a lot higher self-esteem than children who must share their mom with other kids.

That children spaced closer together behave differently is not new information. Weston A Price said the same thing but believed the factors were nutrition related. He believed that close child spacing means the mother doesn't have enough nutrients to pass onto each child (except the first born) and this contributes to genetically-caused differences in personality because nutritionally stressed-out fetuses tend to be stressed-out, competitive people.

But regardless of the different possible reasons why, research has shown that children spaced closely together exhibit a different kind of personality. It follows that they would grow up to create a different kind of society.

So how can we create a more equal world, a world in which people are less interested in status-seeking and competition, and have higher self-esteem:

-We can space our children five years apart.

-We can not put our children into schools where they spend all day with people of the same age, therefore heightening competition as a personality attribute. We could also go smaller. Neighborhood one-room schoolhouses that accommodate a variety of ages instead of the giant factory conglomerations we have now.

-We can continue to create a society that is as highly mobile as possible. The easier it is for people to move to different locations, the less any one location can suck (because then everyone would move). This is a political issue – get rid of borders and big governments, so each area can be what it wants to be, and populations will vote with their feet, just like hunter-gatherers did.

Two last notes:

I liked how this book explained why men hunt and women gather. Women nursed for five years, so they could only do things that they could do WITH their children. Hunting is not something one can do with children, so the men hunted. The women gathered – which was something they could do with their kids.

-Hunter gatherers consider a man and a woman with two children incapable of surviving on their own without help. I think this is still true today.


  1. Interesting observations. It can be said that H&G societies lived quite better lives compared to agrarian and resources could be one of those reasons. The reason of them being mobile couldn't allow them to depend on too many things, which could have reduced many anxieties that started with ownership. I'm just listening to the book Sapiens, which presents some ideas from the point of view of someone observing the human species. The most substantial one so far how much we subscribe to myths and take them for granted.

    Nonetheless probably we can't go back on being H&G again with 7 billion people on earth unless we would start colonizing space, but we could relearn some of the lessons probably.

    1. Not suggesting we return to being hunter gatherers. Just suggesting that children spaced five years apart might have the self esteem (or something) to demand a more free society.

    2. Instead of demand, the word "create" would work better.