Digression: Government from the Paleolithic to Philadelphia
Page 55: No Chiefs, No Religion
Average Joe trying on a chieftan’s headdress, Sis looking on skeptically.
I mean, obviously they’d have been led by chiefs of some sort, but-
What on Earth makes you say that?
“Self-regulating” means people kept each other social and cooperative naturally… informally.
Our naturally social brains didn’t need any higher authority telling them what to do or how to live.
“Need?” We wouldn’t tolerate anyone who tried it!
Sis and Joe bickering.
Dominance behavior is about as anti-social as you can get! Hardly a survival skill in band society.
Sorry, I don’t buy it. Every human endeavor, no matter how small, winds up having a leader.
Island folk again.
Oh, leaders. Certainly we have leaders! Leadership is the opposite of dominance.
Leadership is a phenomenally social skill!
We’re going along with him because we want to. He’s earned our trust and respect.
More on that later.
Right now, we got some deer here, and I’ve got a plan…
Armed band members pinning a guy in the snow.
And if we catch anyone bullying or bossing, or being overly aggressive?
You’d better believe we’re gonna nip that in the bud!
It’s hard to get away with anti-social behavior when we all know what you’re up to.
CLUB GUY 1
And — no matter how strong you might be — the rest of us outnumber you.
CLUB GUY 2
And we’re very good at cooperating.
CLUB GUY 3
And we’re all big fans of bud-nipping!
[It is thought that removing persistently violent, aggressive, antisocial people from our gene pool, whether by ostracism or execution, is one of the ways we tamed and “domesticated” our own species. As we’ve already seen, this instinct still drives much criminal punishment.]
Sis gearing up to make a point to Joe.
Okay, so — band-level society didn’t need any “higher authority” because we regulated our behavior with social stimuli.
In other words:
Hold up, wait.
What about religion?
Eh? What about it?
Band hiking near mountain lake in twilight rain.
Religion wasn’t a thing until fairly recently. Because it simply wasn’t necessary.
Band society managed to maintain social order just fine without religion for something like 60,000 years — 85% of the human experience since our cognitive revolution.
Do gorillas believe in gods?
Do cougars have a cosmology?
Then why would we?
What’d be the point of dreaming up narratives of the supernatural?
Nature is more than enough to reckon with, thank you.
Couple on riverbank with Asian animals nearby.
That doesn’t mean people weren’t spiritual. On the contrary!
I obviously think and act with my own mind… my own animating spirit… my own “me”
And it’s kinda obvious that you have one, too!
What do you mean, “kinda?”
Anyway, we have no reason to think other creatures don’t experience the same reality that we do…
So it’s kinda obvious that every other living thing must be its own conscious “me.”
And so it feels kinda obvious that we can communicate with their animating spirits, same as we do with other humans — commune with them, even, if they care to listen.
We need your meat, mister deer. So with respect, I’m asking you to take one for the team.
I thank you for sacrificing yourself to my arrow, for the greater good.
But this “animist” way of seeing the world was a perception, not a belief. A byproduct of our brain’s prodigious social cognition and creative pattern recognition. And the “spirit” would have been a natural attribute of that dog or tree, not a supernatural god of dogs or trees.
More to the point, neither spirituality nor the supernatural were involved in how we governed ourselves in our state of nature.
Instead, we’d evolved to rely on
Joe and Sis bickering.
No no no! Paleolithic people buried their dead! They carved fertility talismans! They must have had religion!
That’s symbolic behavior. So is speech. That’s not religion.
But you’re right, our early ancestors’ lives were saturated with symbolism.
Thirty-five, forty thousand years ago, people were filling the world with expressive art — painting exquisite murals, carving detailed sculptures, decorating their clothes and bodies, playing musical instruments…
…we can only imagine what stories they told.
The human imagination was nothing short of transcendant, and indeed, one day all of this would become part of religion…
But that day was a long way off.
Religion would play a very important role in the history of government.
And religion was as much part part of the Framers’ world as the air that they breathed.
So believe me, we’ll have a lot to say about religion in the coming pages.
But right now, let’s focus on how we did govern ourselves in the state of nature…
[Suggested edits: “transcendent” is misspelled. And change “part part of the Framers’ world” to “part of the Framers’ world”.]