Let's try to summarize this series of posts.
When I first started writing these, I intended just to summarize the book, but it quickly became apparent that what these reviews really offered was a framework to go on all sort of interesting tangents that I wanted to take. So here I'm going to try to summarize the main points of the book, as well as briefly note some of the sidetracks we took along the way.
The first and most important point of the book is that societies are not a human invention. Societies are not unique to humans—they predate the existence of our species. Humans do not have to make a conscious decision to join a society—it exists a priori for each and every one of us at birth. No anthropologist has ever discovered a "society of one" (hermits and shipwreck survivors don't count). The real challenge, then, is not to explain how societies came into being, but rather how they've changed over time.
Societies are not solely a human invention...While societies are not unique to humans, they are necessary to the human condition, having existed since ancient prehumans diverged on the evolutionary tree from other apes...Every one had been a group closed to outsiders, a group that its members were willing to fight for and at times they died for. Each commanded intense commitments from its members extending from birth to death and through the generations.
Most animal societies are based around individual recognition. Animals have to consciously recognize one another in order to cooperate or to establish some kind of social bond. This greatly limits the size most animal societies can achieve. Chimpanzee societies top out somewhere between 100-200 individuals, and there is no information exchange or cooperation between different groups, limiting what they can accomplish. Chimpanzee societies do not readily accept outsiders, such that it takes a long time to introduce newcomers to chimps in a zoo, with the ever-present threat of violence and rejection.
The primary exception are the social insects like ants and termites who use pheromones to identify members of the same society. This allows ant societies to grow to tremendous sizes, but there is no individuality possible in such societies. Despite surface similarities between species, ants do not possess behavioral flexibility—social roles and relationships are determined exclusively by biology. Ants don't have friends.
Most organisms lack the closed groups we call societies, but in the species that do have them...individuals must recognize each other as belonging to the same group...In the societies of our prehuman ancestors, as in those of most other mammals, the members had to recognize each other individually to function as a group. The resulting constraint on memory put an upper limit of roughly 200 on the size of societies in most animals.
Homo sapiens took a different route. We developed markers—signifiers that allow us to distinguish friend from foe; alien from ally. Markers could take a wide variety of forms such as bodily adornment, hairstyles, clothing, or handicrafts. A profoundly important one is language, which seems expressly designed to distinguish insiders from outsiders as much as to facilitate the transmission of information between people.
Every day we're surrounded by members of our own species that we have no direct personal knowledge of. These types of societies are known as anonymous societies. In anonymous societies, individual recognition is no longer a prerequisite for cooperation or affinity with other members of the same species. This is what has allowed human societies to grow much larger than nearly all other animals besides the social insects.
Only a few other mammals have this capacity, and none of them to anywhere near the degree that humans are capable of. Evidence for the use of markers dates all the way back to the emergence of our species as evidenced by items such as ochre pigments and seashell necklaces found in Africa dating from around 100,000 years ago. All societies develop markers to distinguish their own members from outsiders—from distinctive styles of pottery, clothing styles, bodily modification, tattoos, and hairstyles to today's flags and national anthems.
The ability to read markers profoundly shaped human cognition. We are hard-wired to respond to markers to some degree—even infants demonstrate this capacity. The downside to markers is that it inevitably leads to the formation of an in-group/out-group dynamic. We tend to favor members of our own in-group and engage in “othering” the members of other groups, even when those groups are totally arbitrary as demonstrated by numerous psychological experiments. We tend to rank living things along a hierarchy, with members of our own society at the top and the members of other societies in descending order, with those at the very bottom being regarded just above—and similar to—nonhuman animals. Most tribal groups have a word for members of their own people that roughly translates as "the human beings." Even the words Dutch and Deutsch derive from this concept.
Societies are bounded entities. We acquire cultural markers early on in life such as language, behavior, and tastes based on the society we grew up in. Even things like our gait and our gestures mark us as members of a particular society and culture. We often perceive these differences on a subconscious level, but they are always there nevertheless.
At some point in our evolution...humans broke the glass ceiling by forming anonymous societies. Such societies, found in humans and a few other animals—notably ants and most other social insects—can potentially attain vast sizes because the members no longer must remember each other personally. Instead, they rely on identifying markers to accept both individuals they know and strangers who fit their expectations. Scents serve as markers in the insects, but humans go broader. For us, markers range from accents and gestures to styles of dress, rituals, and flags.
Humans live in multilevel societies. Rather than just our immediate social relationships, we are a simultaneously a member of multiple groups which seem to scale by roughly a factor of ten. There are many other species who also live in multilevel societies including primates such as baboons who, like us, evolved on the African savanna. Each strata of a multilevel society fulfills a different need for its members including mutual defense, food procurement, mating, child rearing, and social interaction.
Humans are also a fission-fusion species, as are our closest living primate relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos. Other examples include flocks of birds, schools of fish, pods of dolphins, herds of elephants, and swarms of insects. Members of fission fusion species regularly congregate and disperse for various reasons such as feeding or group travel. Because of the looseness of social ties, fission-fusion species tend to exhibit a high degree of social intelligence.
Band societies are based around fission-fusion behavior. Even though hunter-gatherers live lives very different from our own, their members still live in clearly-defined societies which we may even describe as nations. An Australian hunter-gatherer informed an anthropologist that there were two types of people: Walbiri and non-Walbiri, and that the Walbiri followed the "true laws."
Individual bands were often quite small—as few as a dozen people or so—but band societies almost always consisted of more than a single band. The members of a band society were scattered among multiple nomadic bands who wandered peripatetically around a bounded territory and were set apart from neighboring societies through markers such as language, customs, and folklore. Band societies were intimately familiar with the territory they inhabited, causing them to feel a spiritual connection towards it. Neutral regions separated the territories of different band societies. Their attitude towards strangers and territorial boundaries was fairly relaxed.
Every band was fully autonomous. Membership was fluid and changed over time based on compatibility. Occupational specialization was minimal. Social hierarchy was flat to non-existent. Disputes were resolved informally. Leadership was temporary and decisions were based on group consensus. Each band was a "factory" which provided for all its members on an ongoing basis. Because bands were nomadic, private property was nonexistent—members were limited to what they could carry. The conditions of band societies appear to be the ones in which humans are most comfortable.
Based on our brain structure, humans seem to be hard-wired for certain group sizes. We usually have up to 10-15 close, intimate friendships. We can have meaningful social relationships with around 150-250 people. Beyond that, we start to rely heavily on markers as a crutch. The natural size of human societies appears to have something to do with maintaining adequate genetic diversity and preventing inbreeding. Early human societies tended to top out at somewhere around 500-1,500 individuals. Societies that grew larger than that divided akin to cells in an organism. Perhaps as many as a million human societies have come and gone.
Until recent millennia, all [human] societies were small communities of hunter-gatherers, but that didn't mean their attachments to their societies were any weaker than ours today...The need for societies, by its very ancientness, has shaped all aspects of the human experience. Most notably, relationships between societies have profoundly influenced the evolution of the human mind, which would in turn affect the interactions among ethnic and racial groups that emerged later in our history.
Although they were small, bands regularly came together in larger agglomerations based around temporarily superabundant resources. These events featured activities such as trance dances, music, feasting, and the exchange of mates. We have evidence of such activities going back for thousands of years, from the mammoth hunters of Siberia to the hunter-gatherers who built Göbekli Tepe 10,000 years ago on a hill in Turkey. Social structures were highly flexible—cycling repeatedly between more hierarchical to more egalitarian forms depending on the needs of the moment for thousands of years without ever becoming fixed and static.
Many hunter-gatherer societies around the world actively engaged in niche construction—transforming the landscape around them to increase food production. Delayed return hunter-gatherers were the original food producers. The use of fire by hunter-gatherers to manage and control ecosystems goes all the way back to the Stone Age and is well documented all over the world.
An example of this is the eel ponds of Budj Bim in Australia, which were converted into a highly productive ecosystem allowing for full-time habitation as far back as 9,000 years ago. At Kuk Swamp in New Guinea, bananas were cultivated as far back 9,000 years ago using irrigation ditches. Stone game fences known as kites were constructed in the ancient Near East for hunting gazelles 8,000 years ago. The natives of the Amazon basin transformed it into a food forest by deliberately planting species such as manioc, peach palm, açaí berries and Brazil nuts as far back as 8,000 years ago. People in other parts of the world used whatever local food resources were available such as sago palm, breadfruit, sweet potatoes, yams, taro, coconuts, acorns, chestnuts, yucca, and many other calorie-dense foods. This process is known as intensification—getting ever more outputs from a fixed resource such as land.
The ability to scale up their food production was still ultimately limited, however, which placed a hard limit on population growth. As the environment became more and more intensively managed by humans, hunter-gatherers moved around a lot less and became more sedentary. In certain parts of the world, natural resources were especially concentrated and abundant year round. These places became home to settled hunter-gatherer societies, also known as affluent foragers.
Settled hunter-gatherers developed many of the characteristics of later civilizations such as leadership roles, social classes, occupational specialization, and slavery. But they were confined to the places where the resources they relied on were located such as coastlines and waterways, limiting their expansion. The existence of settled hunter-gatherers is proof that that it is the existence of storable surpluses, rather than any particular method of food production, which determines social complexity.
Settled hunter-gatherer societies may have existed as far back as tens of thousands of years ago in certain parts of the world. The first societies to develop agriculture were probably settled hunter-gatherers living in the Near East. The Jōmon fisher-foragers of Japan lived in large, permanent settlements long before the domestication of rice and were the first to regularly use ceramic pottery. The Calusa of southern Florida had a tributary chiefdom even though they did not cultivate any domesticated crops and relied mostly on fishing. Settled hunter-gatherer communities survived in the Pacific Northwest up until the late nineteenth century.
Starting around the end of the last Ice Age many hunter-gatherers began cultivating staple foods in garden plots as the primary subsistence strategy in addition to foraging—a practice known as horticulture. These plots were usually made by burning down a patch of the forest and planting them with crops which were cultivated using hoes and adzes. Each growing season, new plots would be cleared from the forest—a technique known as shifting cultivation. There were many reasons for this, but the principle ones were the warmer, wetter, and more stable climate brought about by the Holocene climate period and the mass extinction of large migratory prey animals (known as megafauna). The incorporation of a wider variety of foods in the diet, especially plant foods, is known as a broad spectrum strategy. These foods almost always required extensive processing to make them edible and meant that far more labor was expended to produce food than by foraging. This, in turn, led to social changes.
Hunter-gatherers all around the world increasingly settled down in permanent settlements alongside their garden plots. These villages usually topped out at around 150-300 people, above which they would fissure in a manner similar to bands. Once people started living alongside one another on a full-time basis, they needed ways to deal with the inevitable social friction—disputes over who owned what, and how those resources would be passed down over time. These issues did not arise in nomadic band societies based around fission-fusion. The techniques to cope with these problems emerged out of the cognitive toolkit of Homo sapiens which allowed for a great degree of behavioral flexibility.
They primary way they accomplished this was through kinship. Kinship is based around family ties—both to one's ancestors as well as one's descendants. Kinship relations could be invented out of whole cloth when necessary, such as when an occasional stranger was adopted by the tribe—called fictive kinship. Alliances could be forged between different societies using fictive kinship, such as the Iroquois League. Kinship defined social roles and proscribed social obligations between people, including who could marry whom—known as affinal kinship, and who could command the labor of others—known as the kinship mode of production.
These societies became known as tribal societies. Tribal societies were organized around descent groups such as clans and lineages which collectively owned things like land, houses, infrastructure, tools, and food-processing equipment. Social ties between the various clans were established and maintained through marriages, ritual activities, reciprocal gift exchange, feasting, and pan-tribal sodalities such as men's houses, bachelor's associations, religious cults, and age cohorts. These sodalities often had their own internal songs, dances, symbols, and initiation rites apart from the rest of the tribe. Increased occupational specialization and intensification of food production meant that tribal societies became much larger and more complex than band societies. Tribal societies commonly practiced ancestral veneration in place of the animism practiced by hunter-gatherers. Both kinship and ancestral veneration appear to have been originally based around three living generations.
Tribal societies are segmentary societies—societies without a centralized legal and political apparatus. They are acephalous, in that they have no paramount leader. Each segment was more-or-less equivalent and autonomous. Sometimes there were even conflicts between segments. A segmentary lineage society could combine lineages for purposes of predatory attack or mutual defense, but lineages normally remained aloof or agonistic. Ramages were a series of conical clans ranked in ascending/descending order based on their relative genealogical distance from a remote ancestor.
Tribal societies often featured certain individuals known to anthropologists as Big Men who gained prestige through activities such as throwing huge feasts, owning and displaying prestige objects, presiding over ceremonial activities, and leading war parties. Although Big Men could not pass down their position to their offspring, many of their sons also became Big Men by undertaking the same activities. Their continued position as a Big Man was contingent upon the esteem of the rest of the tribe rather than holding a formal political office, and they led mainly through persuasion rather than coercion.
At a certain point of growth...markers alone are insufficient to hold a society of humans together. Large human populations depend on an interplay between the markers and an acceptance of social control and leadership, along with increasing commitments to specializations, such as jobs and social groups.
A million human societies may well have come and gone. [N]ew societies were born in a two-step process...the process begins with the formation of subgroups within a society, brought on by divergences in identity....very gradually...those identities diverge to such an extent that the become incompatible. The factions then separate to permanently form distinct societies.
Tribal societies emerged simultaneously throughout the world during the Holocene. Ranked societies became hierarchically ordered, with some individuals and clans accorded a much higher status than other ones. In absolute rank societies, a single, highest fixed point of the hierarchy emerged. These societies became stratified—comprised of multiple, non-overlapping social groups with some groups having more rights and privileges than others. Eventually, one particular lineage often managed to gain control over the ritual activities of the tribe forming a priesthood which monopolized access to supernatural forces, allowing them to manipulate the social logic of the tribe to their own ends.
Eventually, leadership roles became confined to certain individuals, known as chiefs, who were usually the leaders of their clans. For example, among the Bemba people of Zambia, the king was chosen from among the sons of the highest-ranking woman belonging to the chiefly Crocodile clan. Genealogies became important for claims to authority—for example, Hawaiian chiefs kept complex genealogies for themselves while commoners were forbidden from doing so. They were also regarded as having more mana—a supernatural life force—than commoners, and even touching them invited death. These societies became known as chiefdoms.
Chiefs possessed acquired status by virtue of heredity rather than the achieved status of a Big Man. Power flowed from the chief and his retinue downward through various subordinate chiefs and tribal elders. Chiefs employed skilled artisans and sponsored image-building activities such as the construction of elaborate ceremonial centers—the materialization of the ruling ideology. Chiefs extracted tribute and labor from commoners and acted as military leaders.
Theories about the formation of chiefdoms fall into two broad camps—functionalist theories and conflict theories. Functionalist theories stress the economic benefits of chiefs such as redistribution of surpluses, labor coordination, managing long-distance trade, and managing risk such as storing food for times of scarcity. Conflict theories focus on the need for military defense and posit that chiefdoms arose primarily though conflict—either between social classes within the society or between neighboring societies. Both of these factors were exacerbated by increasing population pressure.
The arrival of the chiefdom greatly accelerated warfare between rival groups. Initially the main motivation for war was capturing slaves. Slavery provided a source of wealth and power for aspiring chiefs and a ready-made underclass to kickstart the process towards social stratification. War booty provided a source of wealth and labor outside of customary kinship relations for chiefs to secure the loyalty of allies and enhance their power.
Increased surpluses due to intensification provided a tempting target for aggressive groups seeking to seize it from their weaker neighbors by force. Eventually, instead of conquering a rival group and killing or enslaving them, chiefs realized it made more sense to let the vanquished group live and regularly siphon off a portion of their surplus. This was known as the tributary mode of production. Subject groups were managed through a combination of control and assimilation. Due to the existence of chiefdoms, the number of independent polities began decreasing over the last several thousand years, reversing the previous trend of societies splitting apart above a certain number of people.
From the study of animal societies we know that societies do not freely merge. Urban monkey troops, for example, when provided with excess food, increase in number but do not increase in size—they remain the same size; there are just more of them occupying the same space. A similar dynamic is true in human societies. Larger and larger societies were not the outcome of voluntary alliances. Previously independent polities merged via conflict to form superoganisms akin to the creation of multicellular organisms from single-celled ones. All large societies formed out of what had once been independent groups in the distant past. This can be seen in their cultural and genetic makeup.
The ability to accept strangers born in the same society as fellow members does not on its own account for the enormous growth of human societies. What made such vast expansions possible was the acquisition of people from other societies. [T]he addition of foreigners in numbers, initially by force thorough slavery and subjugation and more recently by immigration, generated the mixtures of ethnicities and races found within societies today. The relationships between these groups retain the imprint of differences in power and control that in some cases extend back to before recorded history.
In a few select places on earth, complex chiefdoms scaled up to become the world's first states. These polities are known as pristine states. This phenomenon occurred between approximately 3200 and 2800 BCE in Western Asia, China, and the Americas. Pristine states formed in river valleys where irrigation agriculture was practiced on fertilized alluvial soils which allowed for much denser and more tightly integrated populations than in surrounding areas. Rather than shifting cultivation, these places practiced flood retreat agriculture which was enormously productive once irrigation systems were established. Irrigation agriculture in river valleys allowed for larger, denser, and more sedentary populations than other cultivation techniques. Cereals, legumes and pulses were part of the set of eight founder crops which were especially instrumental in forming the first civilizations.
Eventually, plants and animals became domesticated through intensive management by humans. Domestication altered the DNA of plants and animals to the point where they became dependent on humans to survive, even as we became utterly dependent upon them. This inability to return to hunting and gathering ensnared us in a plant trap. Agriculture based on cereals produced over a hundred times more food than could be procured via hunting and gathering. Agriculture was the culmination of a millennia-long process of intensification—it takes at least 100 generations for agricultural societies to develop into states, and some places never made the leap.
People who grew domesticated crops in fields became known as farmers, while those who kept herds of domesticated animals became known as herders. Both groups expanded geographically because they could scale up their food production at will to feed their growing populations. Instead of slow growth, populations went through cycles of boom and bust, with zoonotic diseases transmitted from livestock acting as the primary limiting factor. Both lifestyles exchanged goods and were often in conflict with one other. A secondary products revolution was the use of animals for milk, hides, wool, traction, and pack transport instead of just food. The horse was domesticated somewhere in Central Asia around 3000 BCE, and its adoption led to the expansion of states and increasing warfare. The invention of metalworking had a similar effect.
Two critical factors in the development of early states were circumscription and militarism. Circumscribed areas were ecosystems surrounded by much less productive regions or occupied by hostile neighbors. This meant that there was nowhere to flee when conflicts arose. Militarism led to the rise of a professional warrior caste which could enforce the dictates of the ruling class. Written laws were laid down by leaders to proscribe social behavior, enforced by judges and a court system. Previously fluid social relationships became fixed and stratified, locking the inhabitants of states in a social cage from which there was no escape for the majority of people. The lowest rung on the social ladder was treated little better than cattle, and managed using much the same techniques. Slavery expanded exponentially due to military conquest. Slaves rarely reproduced themselves sufficiently, providing a perennial incentive to go out and acquire more from one’s neighbors.
In states, redistribution was no longer carried out by chiefs, but by a literate and numerate class of highly trained administrators attached to the king's household. This was facilitated by the development of systems of writing and measurement. Systems of recordkeeping meant that some individuals and groups became indebted to others, exacerbating inequality. States became socially and economically stratified, with some classes having much greater life changes than others. Most societies developed at least three social classes and often many more. Classes tended to be endogamous, meaning that marriage and social interaction were primarily confined to members of the same class, unlike the more egalitarian arrangements of tribal and band societies.
States had a single paramount ruler, whether a king, emperor, president, prime minister, generalissimo, warlord or dictator. The ruler held a formal political office, which facilitated dynastic succession. Economic production became much more specialized, with merchants, artisans and craftsmen alongside food producers. Some states issued various forms of currency to foment the development of internal markets, which allowed for the decentralized exchange of value and more effective taxation by the state. Long-distance trade was used to procure exotic goods from distant regions under the auspices of the elites, including precious metals, gemstones and other luxuries.
Two additional areas of specialization were religion and warfare. States have a professional army under the leadership of military commanders. Or else they hire professional soldiers—mercenaries—and reward them with the money and proceeds from conquest. Religious leaders upheld the fundamental legitimacy of the state and its governing institutions to its subjects and citizens. Religious and political leaders were joined at the hip in early states. Religion was the original glue which held societies together, but it was increasingly replaced by other bureaucratic institutions as time went on. States also utilized "soft power" in the form of culture, language, literature, clothing styles, buildings, technology, entertainment and so forth in order to unify the disparate peoples living under their umbrella.
States have dense, sedentary populations which produce massive surpluses capable of supporting cities with monumental architecture such as temples and palaces where the elites reside. Cities, towns, and villages form a hierarchy of settlements including regional capitals and administrative centers through which authority flows in top-down manner from the central capital. They are territoriality defined and claim a monopoly on legitimate violence within their territory upheld by the military and gendarmes. They collect tribute and taxes to support a bureaucracy and to build infrastructure such as roads, bridges, ports, and canals which connect outlying areas to the center.
Not all states had every single one of these features, of course—they varied greatly based on the contingencies of time and place. But every true state worthy of the name possessed a majority of them. Secondary states came about through contact with preexisting states. Civilizations are cultural interaction zones pivoted around a hegemonic tributary society in each zone.
Endemic, intermittent conflict between states and civilizations has been the defining feature of human history from the beginnings of domesticated agriculture down through the present day. With their much larger and denser populations, hierarchical political structure, complex economies, occupational specialization, bureaucratic institutions and superior organizational capacity for warmongering, states have expanded greatly over the last 5,000 years to become the predominant form of social organization in the world today. States allow for cooperation on a truly massive scale, rivaling the social insects. Yet in many more remote parts of the world, people's primary loyalty is still to a more parochial entity such as a tribe or clan. The majority of the world's population lived outside of states as late as 1600 CE.
States became turbocharged during the last couple centuries thanks to the process of industrialization—the harnessing of concentrated energy in the form of fossil fuels using advanced technology. This has allowed state societies to expand to mind-boggling sizes, in some cases spanning the entire globe. Yet despite their awesome power, states are inherently fragile. States and civilizations seem formidable and permanent, but are in actuality ramshackle contraptions prone to failure and breakdown. Hundreds of societies have come and gone during the past several thousand years. Archaeologists have determined that ancient societies had a lifespan of between two and five hundred years. The more complex societies become, the more fragile they are.
Human societies have always had the ability to take in outsiders, but this capacity has greatly expanded in modern times. Immigration now plays the primary role in bringing people from disparate cultures together rather than than warfare. Both push and pull factors cause immigration. Immigrants tend to have skills that the host society desperately needs, either at the high or low end. Citizenship allows us to outsource decisions about who does and doesn't belong to impersonal political institutions. Yet this often leads to conflicts between migrant groups and the dominant majority who may feel that their way of life is being threatened, as well as conflicting social identities on the part of immigrants themselves.
Collapse is more accurately defined as a fracture. Societies tend to fracture along preexisting lines determined by racial, political, and ethnic divisions. No state can be held together through brute force alone—some level of social integration is necessary if any state is to remain viable in the long term. The collapse of complex societies into their simpler, smaller and more stable constituent parts is always looming on the horizon for the inhabitants of nation-states. Such collapses have been caused by wide variety of factors throughout history including climate change, wars, epidemic disease, natural disasters, invasions, mass migrations, extreme inequality, parasitical elites, a faltering economy, urban-rural divides, declining social trust, or simply a loss of faith in the ruling ideology. Usually multiple factors combine to bring about the end of a state or civilization, which can happen quite rapidly and unexpectedly.
The differentiation of identities among society members continues to be a source of disruption. However, rather than dividing in the manner of hunter-gatherer groups, today's societies more often fragment along geographical fault lines that roughly reflect the claimed ancestral homelands of the ethnic groups that have come to live within them...we are who we are, and so our societies still put inordinate effort into jockeying for resources, territory and power, just as societies of animals have always done.
We insulate ourselves from foreign powers we don't trust by partnering with those we do. Such alliances, unique to humankind, may save us. Nevertheless, they can bring further uncertainty and destruction, angering or striking fear into those who have been left out...Throughout it all people's identification with the societies that shelter them from an unpredictable world has remained steadfast. (356-358)
The societies you and I live in now will one day cease to exist, yet the need for societies is permanent. They are big part of what makes us human. We are still fundamentally tribal creatures with the same brain structure as our primate ancestors which has remained virtually unchanged since the dawn of humanity. Even if an alien race were suddenly discovered somewhere beyond earth, we would not abandon our societies, any more than aboriginal Australians abandoned theirs when Europeans arrived on their shores. The dreams of globalization leading to one, undifferentiated, homogeneous society where we identify primarily with an abstract "humanity" instead of a particular society or culture are just pipe dreams. So, too, are visions of returning to some kind of ethnically “pure” homogeneous society. Multiculturalism is here to stay.
One of the major social challenges facing today’s multicultural societies is coping with diverse populations given our evolved tendency to identify primarily with our own kind and to perceive outsiders as a threat. Most conflicts in the world today are now civil wars in one form or another rather than full-scale military confrontations between nation-states. Yet who is a member of our "tribe" is never fixed—it is fluid and ever-changing, and can expand indefinitely as human history has shown time and time again. This gives us some hope for the future. The existence of places where many different races, cultures, creeds, orientations and nationalities live alongside one another peacefully is perhaps the greatest achievement of our species and the one upon which all others are built.
Cooperation and coexistence is all the more urgent in the era of nuclear weapons and climate change. Money flows around the world at the speed of light, undermining national sovereignty, destabilizing governments and upending established social relationships. At each step up the societal and technological ladder, we kicked out the rung beneath us, leading to a potential fall from a dizzying height. At a mere 350,000 years old, Homo sapiens is nowhere near the longest surviving member of the hominin family tree and an absolute infant compered to most other species. Will it survive? Or, despite all our supposed achievements, are we destined to become just another failed experiment on the evolutionary tree?
Well, that's the end of this book series. Hope you enjoyed it and hope you learned something!
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