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Civilisation meant many bad things (wars, taxes, bureaucracy, patriarchy, slavery) but also made possible written literature, science, philosophy and most other great human achievements.Almost everyone knows this story in its broadest outlines.In fact, it’s not obvious what doing so would even mean, since people are not all the same and nobody would particularly want them to be.
But no one challenges the basic structure of the story.
There is a fundamental problem with this narrative: it isn’t true.
Since at least the days of the 18th-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, it has framed what we think the overall shape and direction of human history to be.
This is important because the narrative also defines our sense of political possibility.
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.These hunt stories are told mainly through pictures, with lots of fascinating and unusual details. For centuries, we have been telling ourselves a simple story about the origins of social inequality.Unlike terms such as “capital” or “class power”, the word “equality” is practically designed to lead to half-measures and compromise.One can imagine overthrowing capitalism or breaking the power of the state, but it’s very difficult to imagine eliminating “inequality”.Become a Narratively Patron today and we'll send you our first-of-its-kind Storytelling Swag Bag.Then a few times a year we'll send fun surprises for you to tote around, from books we love to literary zines and much more.”), all without addressing any of the factors that people actually object to about such “unequal” social arrangements.For instance, that some manage to turn their wealth into power over others; or that other people end up being told their needs are not important, and their lives have no intrinsic worth.Most see civilisation, hence inequality, as a tragic necessity.Some dream of returning to a past utopia, of finding an industrial equivalent to “primitive communism”, or even, in extreme cases, of destroying everything, and going back to being foragers again.