Surplus aggression

Innately selfish or not, the effects of food provisioning and habitat depletion on both wild chimpanzees and human foragers suggest that Dawkins and others who argue that humans are innately aggressive, selfish beasts should be careful about citing these chimp data in support of their case. Human groups tend to respond to food surplus and storage with behavior like that observed in chimps: heightened hierarchical social organization, intergroup violence, territorial perimeter defense, and Machiavellian alliances. In other words, humans—like chimps—tend to fight when there’s something worth fighting over. But for most of prehistory, there was no food surplus to win or lose and no home base to defend.

sex-at-dawnch. 4

Can this be true? That people only start fighting when there is something (i.e. a surplus) to fight over? That surplus inevitably leads to jealous hoarding?

What does this mean for the parts of human culture that we seem to only have been able to get to as a result of surplus: arts, sciences, material culture? Is surplus a non-negotiable pre-requisite? Are those parts of human culture always desirable?

Furthermore, what does this tell us about the assumption of scarcity in economics—when economics as a discipline owes its existence to the availability of a surplus?

See: paradise-built-in-hell.

  1. Contrary to the idea that a decrease in resources is likely to result in increased conflict many surveys have shown that increased resources result in increased conflict. Conflict can be caused by a combination of greed and grievance and often greed is the motor while grievance is the justification. “This suggests that the resource curse, by exposing those in power to the temptations of great wealth, is the most powerful driver of violence and conflict.” — Camilla Toulmin, Climate Change in Africa (London: International African Institute and Zed Books, 1999), p. 118.

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paradise-built-in-hell Solnit, Rebecca. 2009. A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disasters. Viking. ↩︎ 1

desert Anonymous. 2011. Desert. St. Kilda: Stac an Armin Press. ↩︎ 1

sex-at-dawn Jethá, Cacilda, and Christopher Ryan. 2012. Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships. Harper Perennial. ↩︎ 1