Ah, you’re going to hate my response!

Boehm relies hugely on accounts in the literature which may or may not be adequate descriptions of reality. Anthropology is littered with erroneous accounts. My feeling is that until third-party accounts are properly validated one must regard them with a certain amount of caution. The literature is littered with accounts once believed to be definitive subsequently being shown to be erroneous. Methodologies haven’t advanced enough to render this concern superfluous.

In all cited cases in the article the dominant factors (aside from the imputation of intentionality) appear to be small group size and an inability to accrue significant wealth disparities. This directly contradicts Boehm’s hypothesis that intentionality is central to the emergence of male-male egalitarian power structures. Furthermore, there’s no correlation between supposed egalitarianism within a group and lack of violence experienced by group members because inter-group violence is often the norm in the groups reported in the literature. It’s not surprising that in a condition where one’s greatest threat to life is from other groups one should seek to reduce violence within one’s own group in order to compensate. This could be regarded as quasi-intentional but the key point is that it’s a response to external factors.

These various external factors indicate that it would be exceedingly difficult to engineer egalitarianism in a larger group in which amassing significant wealth is possible.

Furthermore it’s important to note that in Boehm’s analysis egalitarianism is recorded only between males; he acknowledges that in many supposedly egalitarian societies women and children are regarded as chattel and have little or no autonomy (p9). This is then a very narrow definition of “egalitarianism.”

There’s also a lot of hypothesizing to explain away data that contradicts the desired hypothesis (p10). This is rarely a good sign even for the social sciences where there’s no true rigor in either methodology or analysis.

Basically Boehm keeps reasserting his hypothesis but the evidence is at best rather weak. This is a typical problem within the social sciences; it’s an assertion-based methodology all the way from assertions about what the ethnologist in question has observed (which is highly subject to their own observer bias) to the conclusions they draw from their observations. All this is why so-called social sciences aren’t actually scientific at all.

I continue to think that we simply don’t know enough about conditions pertaining to such groups to draw any conclusions about the mechanisms operating, nor about how such mechanisms may have originated or may be sustained. We certainly can’t draw any conclusions therefore about their applicability or otherwise to modern large-scale industrial civilizations.

Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.

Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.