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Mainstream social science now seems mobilized to reinforce this sense of hopelessness.

Almost on a monthly basis we are confronted with publications trying to project the current obsession with property distribution back into the Stone Age, setting us on a false quest for ‘egalitarian societies’ defined in such a way that they could not possibly exist outside some tiny band of foragers (and possibly, not even then).

There is a fundamental problem with this narrative. Overwhelming evidence from archaeology, anthropology, and kindred disciplines is beginning to give us a fairly clear idea of what the last 40,000 years of human history really looked like, and in almost no way does it resemble the conventional narrative.

Our species did not, in fact, spend most of its history in tiny bands; agriculture did not mark an irreversible threshold in social evolution; the first cities were often robustly egalitarian.

Material possessions are few, but the world is an unspoiled and inviting place.

Most work only a few hours a day, and the small size of social groups allows them to maintain a kind of easy-going camaraderie, without formal structures of domination.

This is important because the narrative also defines our sense of political possibility.

Most see civilization, hence inequality, as a tragic necessity.

Let us begin by outlining received wisdom on the overall course of human history.What we’re going to do in this essay, then, is two things.First, we will spend a bit of time picking through what passes for informed opinion on such matters, to reveal how the game is played, how even the most apparently sophisticated contemporary scholars end up reproducing conventional wisdom as it stood in France or Scotland in, say, 1760.Then came farming, which brought with it private property, and then the rise of cities which meant the emergence of civilization properly speaking.Civilization meant many bad things (wars, taxes, bureaucracy, patriarchy, slavery…) but also made possible written literature, science, philosophy, and most other great human achievements.

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