The evolution of human cooperation and prosociality: does capitalism produce the fairest society on earth? 
Camilla Power (University of East London)
Send message to Convenor
Being Human
University Place 2.217
Friday 9 August, 9:00-10:00, 14:30-15:30 (UTC+0)

Short Abstract:

Assertive hunter-gatherer egalitarianism has been seen as characteristic of early modern human societies in which symbolic culture emerged. Alternatively, modern prosociality is viewed as historic product of market integration coupled with world religion. Is late capitalism the fairest society ever?

Long Abstract

Some interdisciplinary consensus is emerging among evolutionary psychologists (e.g. Whiten), primatologists (e.g. van Schaik), anthropologists (e.g. Hrdy) and developmental psychologists (e.g. Tomasello) that human prosociality evolved on a basis of intersubjectivity and roughly egalitarian relations (compared with our closest primate relatives). This fostered cultural transmission processes to the point where symbolic culture, language, art and ritual emerged with our species over 100,000 years ago. These evolutionary models tend to see subsequent historic development of inequality in farming, pastoralist and market economies as in some sense incompatible with or stressful for our innate psychology. Social anthropologists such as Graeber maintain that people in state-free societies are spontaneously communist, and markets, dependent on state military formations, undermine this natural prosociality. Recently however, Pinker, Henrich and colleagues have set out to debunk the concept of the 'noble savage'. Their arguments and experiments appear to show that thanks to widespread market integration, facilitated by expansionist state intervention and participation in world religions, societies today may be less violent and fairer than ever before. Prosociality, then, is a specifically modern product of capitalism. This panel will debate these opposing viewpoints.

Accepted papers: