The Ju/ hoansi people of the Kalahari have always been ferociously egalitarian. They dislike inequality or showing off, and shun formal leadership institutions. Its what attained them part of the most successful, sustainable civilisation in human history
Barely a day goes by when supporters of greater taxation, universal revenues and other initiatives aimed at addressing systematic inequality are not accused of provoking the” politics of resentment “. Doing so is an effective way of closing down debate; envy is, after all, among the deadliest of the” deadly sins “.
Yet politicians inclined to dismiss inequality in this way may do so at their jeopardy. For the evidence of our hunting and assemble ancestors suggests we are hard-wired to respond viscerally to inequality.
In the 1960 s, the Ju /’ hoansi “Bushmen” of the Kalahari desert became famous for becoming established opinions of social evolution on their head. But their contribution to a better understanding of the human tale is far more important than simply stimulating us rethink our past.
Until then, it had been widely believed that hunter gatherers tolerated a near-constant combat against starvation. But when a young Canadian anthropologist, Richard B Lee, conducted a series of simple economic input-output investigates of the Ju /’ hoansi as they moved about their daily lives, he found not only did they make a good living from hunting and meet, but they did so on the basis of merely 15 hours’ project per week. On the strength of this, anthropologists redubbed hunter-gatherers” the original affluent society “.