Kristopher Morgan, July 13, 2017
It’s a question every libertarian faces at some point in our lives. The origins of governments as they exist today, in the form of the state (a monopoly of legitimate coercion), are important to understand if we are ever going to break this vicious cycle. We can gain an intuitive understanding of how governments were first formed by looking at the evolution of man and the formation of history’s earliest civilization. The journey begins before the arrival of modern man.
Who We Were Before
We have all heard the scientific name Homo Sapiens, but you may be unaware that Homo Sapiens evolved from an earlier form of man called Homo Erectus. As can be guessed, the name signifies the first time the genus could stand upright. Existing around two million years ago up to about 200,000 years ago, not only were they taller than their predecessors, their brains were around 50% greater in volume (still only 60% that of modern man). Their large brains gave them the capacity to cook with fire and make tools. As Homo Erectus gained more intelligence and used more tools, modern man was ready to make an appearance, as what we call a Neanderthal.
Neanderthals not only used tools and controlled fire, they also buried their dead and may have had language. They lived in what is referred to today as a nuclear family, and even took care of others who were too sick to care for themselves. Their diets consisted of meat, cooked vegetables, and they occasionally engaged in cannibalism. Brutish as they seem to have been, and dumb as portrayed, it is believed that breeding with their evolutionary superiors is what lead to their extinction. Modern man has only been on the scene for the last 30,000 – 50,000 years.
The human brain thrives when stress is reduced, so it’s likely as man learned to use tools and become more productive, stress over survival was reduced and intelligence gained. People today will hopefully never know what it’s like to have to resort to cannibalism as a means of survival… but what we can do is imagine the amount of stress that might cause a person to feel. Before civilizations could rise, farming had to be learned in the area of food production. As hunter-gatherers learned to farm land, modern civilization formed. Before examining humanity’s earliest civilizations, we should know something about what conditions were like just before.
Prior to farming, our ancestors survived as hunter-gatherers. Since people traveled in groups of about twelve, decisions were made on the basis of consensus. Each small group was part of a “clan” that consisted of about a hundred adults. There were elders who were seen as wise, or even mystical, but they didn’t have authority the way we think of it today. They were merely trusted to know what is best. These societies, existing between 10,000bc to present, are the closest thing we know of that could be considered a voluntaryist egalitarian society. All food and resources are shared equally out of a sense of equal needs and social justice. In such small groups, where everyone needs food and everyone labors fairly equally, who has the right to more than others? Eventually hunter-gatherers realized seeds are what make plant food grow, and accrued the idea of farming.
Farming And The Dawn of Civilization
The discovery of farming methods, as well as the domestication of animals, is what lead to civilization. Farming makes it possible for large groups of people to remain in one place and settle, rather than roam the land searching for food. The first place to achieve civilization was called Mesopotamia, around 3300bc; a land we refer to today as Iraq. This was roughly 5,500 years ago, and again, modern man has existed for 30,000 – 50,000yrs. Mesopotamian government was as one today might expect; a series of city-states owned by Gods with the inhabitants subject to their will. Distribution of food and resources came from the temple itself, located at the center of the city, where the farmers and craftsmen worked.
There seems to be very little written about what exactly happened when societies began farming and civilizations formed. Drawing on what has been presented about hunter-gatherer values, as well as some basic facts about the forming of Ancient Mesopotamia, some logical conclusions can be made.
Farming had to have been first discovered by a few, while other hunter-gatherer tribes continued to search for food. In fact, according to the timemaps article referenced above, the coming together of civilization “is the result of gradual steps taken over hundreds, even thousands, of years, and only appears to arrive fully formed as written records begin to shed their light”. Writing came about around 3,500bc but civilization itself may have been established as early as 5,000bc, a 1,500 year gap. While gathering crops, the gatherers may have come across farms and, not understanding the principles of farming, helped themselves. The farmers, on the other hand, were finally beginning to produce enough food to eat and survive comfortably. They had to protect their food from the gatherers. The only two means to do this would have been peaceful or violent, and we must keep in mind the stress levels early farmers still felt living on subsistence. Since governments today use violent means to enforce law, we shall turn our attention there.
By violent means, farmers would have repelled intruders on their land. Rather than opening up the farm for others to join, they would have been upset and fought off the looters. The likelihood of this method being preferred would become greater the bigger society grew. Hunter-gatherers often spent their entire lives never meeting another person outside their clan, so it’s likely their ability to sympathize, and therefore behave peacefully, didn’t extend to those beyond their own.
To take on the task of securing the farmland, the bigger and stronger of the population may have been offered food (among other incentives) in exchange for security; an early system of barter. As farms grew and networked with other farms, the possibility that during periods of low yield, due to circumstances such as famines, climate changes, droughts, etc. some farmers were unable to pay their share of food to those in charge of security. The security force (hungry, scared, and angry) would have outed such farmers for not paying their fair share, resulting in the rest having to give more; the birth of what we call taxation. From this point the dots are easy to connect. Realizing that security forces could be used to make an easier living, the meaning of security could be manipulated the same way it is today. Including ways that make people believe aggression is security and security alone is just isolationism. Everything else governments do has been brought about in the same way, politics, and through the same tool, fear.
However accurate this narrative on the formation of governments may be, we still have to wonder why it persists. Surely modern man and modern society have outgrown our barbaric roots, so what gives? Well, it turns out we may not be as smart as we think. Though, we are making progress.
Why It Continues
As we know, governments have been part of the human experience for almost 7,000 years, since Ancient Mesopotamia. They began during a time when the world may have been more Hobbesian than we realize, as stress levels were very high due to subsistence. Today we have far more than we need, which gives humanity the extra time it takes to ask serious questions about the nature of our governments. Our emotional styles have also moved towards less anxiety, which makes it possible for us to think more clearly and be more accepting of peaceful government.
We have much to overcome intellectually. The creative use of language noted above has evolved to what we now call propaganda. In politics, this is what is winning the day; emotionally charged rhetoric designed to excite and feed off fear. We have news feeds, videos, and pictures that are used by our rulers to make the emotional case for their actions. Our children are taught politically correct history, in which our government is portrayed as society’s saviour. Spending our formative years learning such things and pledging our allegiance to “the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands” is all that is needed to lock most people in the statist mindset for their entire lives. Consider that empiricism itself is only a few hundred years old.
Should people try to break free of their training and be objective, there is a natural psychological barrier holding them back called cognitive dissonance. When they are faced with information that contradicts their current beliefs, they have a natural need to defend their present beliefs against others. Dissonance stems from a need for consistency and certainty, which we all have, and it should not be underestimated. The scientific community has a system of peer review that sprung up naturally in large part due to confirmation bias, a product of dissonance. We accept and absorb information that confirms what we already believe. Anyone not aware of this phenomena runs the risk of closing themselves off to ideas that might be more logically consistent and empirically valid.
Governments formed when hunter-gatherers first learned to farm. They had to have a way of protecting their crops from other hunter-gatherers who had not yet learned the skill. Those in charge of protecting the farm didn’t have time to grow crops as well, so an early form of barter was established, food for security. Some realized life might be easier in the ranks of security. During famines and other low yield times, security forces would have used public pressure to gain food from those refusing to pay what they agreed. Other farmers wanting security for their land would have either gave extra food or joined in in pressuring those who didn’t pay. This would be the launching pad for taxation.
We still have governments today for a variety of reasons. Not only have they been a part of life since the first civilizations were formed, not only do we experience dissonance when challenged with the very idea that governments are evil by their nature, but parenting, that is the shaping of future generations, is riddled with barbarism. The granting of human rights to children is a relatively new concept in the history of parenting. Lloyd Demause covers the history of parenting and it’s effects on countries in “The Emotional Life of Nations”, a book that is a crucial read for anyone wanting to know how the family ties in to what form of government we create. We all hear about genetics and nurture, but rarely does anyone mention the phrase psychogenics.
There are steps we can all take to create a better future. As parents, we can look at embracing parenting techniques that keep our children with a positive emotional style. Non-parents, please don’t operate under the assumption that the job of the parent is to control their kids so you don’t get annoyed. All adults can take steps, such as meditation or therapy, to improve our own emotional styles. The government we have is often a reflection of the overall emotional state we are in. In short, as Mother Teresa put it, “If you want to bring happiness to the whole world, go home and love your family.”
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The author’s views and opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the entire Ask A Libertarian Team or its followers.