A hypothesis on the origins of capitalist and socialist thought in evolution.

I have a hypothesis. I wouldn't elevate it to the level of "theory" yet, but it's a strong hypothesis which I think has quite a lot of support going for it – and explains the economic conflict of the past hundred years or so rather well, by looking at pre-historical origins of lifestyles that are now forced to coexist. I want to start by saying that I strongly believe humans are more than their genes, my hypothesis is that there is a genetic propensity towards either the type of society that capitalism or socialism offers (and for now we'll focus on the ideals – not the practical realities and shortcomings of either). Some people make choices to subscribe to the opposite philosophy, often out of disillusionment with the one they start out with – so these genes do not govern our behaviour absolutely, but they do suggest where the propensity for subscribing to them may come from.

Now it is known that Humans, Bonobos and Chimpanzee's share a common ancestor. Most scientists believe that this species began splitting up into the two major lines (homo and pan) about 7 million years ago. Within it though, it must have carried the genes of all three lines. What is not scientifically known, but my hypothesis, is based on when a particular set of genes split in the lines. I believe that homo split off  before these genes in turn led to a split in the pan line into the species we know: pan troglodytes (chimpanzee) and pan binuscus (bonobo). 

So the homo line ended up with both sets, where one was dominant – societies flourished that followed it and vice versa. Among the Pan line, ultimately it caused a split into two species (Bonobo's and Chimps are so physically alike they weren't even recognized as being different species until the late 20th century) – the difference is almost entirely in their social structure and behaviour. My hypothesis is that both these types of behaviours (for now let's call them A and B) are extremely efficient for survival of a species, but not only that, they are exactly equally efficient – which is why neither replaced the other. But they are also mutually exclusive, if both try to exist in the same population – they conflict and undermine each other (anybody who reads Ivo Vegter's columns will realize that he is just as sure that socialism maliciously undermines capitalism as socialists are that capitalism maliciously undermines them) and so they both survived in clusters split on geography. Ultimately turning into the two Pan species. Among homo it didn't lead to a species split, but it did lead to cultural splits. This is why both socialists and capitalist looking at history seem to find all of it proving their point – depending which culture you see (and throw in a bit of cognitive dissonance) you will find either cultures that seems to have reached great success with A or cultures that have achieved great success with B – but you will never find both in the same culture, because that is not a stable setup. And because our initial genetic propensity sets us up to support either one and act according to it, we see that behaviour as natural and proper – and can never agree on this. 

So what are A and B exactly ? Well let's make A the chimpanzees. Chimps are highly competitive, they are greedy and self-centered creatures. They do have a complex social life but it's built around self-interest. They steal from each other whenever they can get away with it, and they have even less qualms about stealing from another tribe. They are violent societies that are in constant battles for domination and supremacy and their social structure is built on a pyramid with everybody trying to get higher up – and the higher you are, the more resources (food and sexual partners) you get to claim.  They are also highly sexist with males taking clear positions of dominance over females, and all chimps accept this – in fact rely on this pyramid for security. Having the "winners" at the top, also means they defend the tribe from outside enemies. Basically – chimpanzees are capitalist in every way (except that they haven't invented money).

Bonobos are type B. Scientists call them "the hippies of the forest". They are a collectivist society without any signs of leadership or structure. Their societies are closely bonded and share everything. All the labour of gathering food and fighting of predators, as well as the fruits of that labour are shared. They share without a thought each contributes without ever wondering if they are giving more or less. The sexes are completely equal because there is no leadership structure. They also share sexual partners, all around, females and males both mate – often with multiple partners on a daily basis and the frequently engage in same-sex behaviour (so do chimps but much more rarely and much less openly). They are everything capitalists sneer at when they talk of hippies.

The proof that A and B both are equally viable is that both species survived to this day – if one had been more viable, then it would have replaced the other, instead of causing a species split. Among humans both lifestyles have historically existed, but never in the same culture. Those cultures grew into countries where one or the other would dominate (depending which set of genes there were more off -as the larger number of genes would give more people the propensity to either lifestyle and this would in turn lead to societies where the other could not survive). Europeans apparently had a particularly strong strain of the type A gene and it ran through them creating one pyramid society after another – both in Europe and among their descendants (look at modern-day America for example). Even among European socialists it's dominance influenced them – which is why the majority could not imagine a non-hierarchical socialism without a powerful state (this attempt to reconcile these incompatible lines of thinking has failed miserably where-ever it has been tried – you cannot be both stratified and equal it just means the type A people in the group end up with absolute power over all the type B's and abuse it for terrible atrocity – mind you the same thing happens when you have type A societies that embrace some type B behaviours to keep the type B voters happy, it's never stable).

So what does that suggest for the future of humanity ? Historically type A societies have been conquerors who often destroyed type B societies when they did so, many type B societies internally would act in type A behaviour toward their neighbours (suggesting that the same genes can be in each person and dominance of either can be almost selective – in part based on who you are dealing with. It's easy to share with somebody whom you trust to share back, it's much harder to share with somebody whom you fear will take all you have and give nothing back).

So here we are, human beings. Both chimpanzee and bonobo (and indeed look at the conflict about sex in our society – between  those who are possessive about it and those who engage in it as a positive bonding between people, often multitudes of them). I don't think it's a surprise that most monogamy-espousing (practise and preach of course differs) people are also capitalists, and that hippies claimed free love. It's no surprise that the most socialist city in America (San Francisco) is also the most sex-positive city in the country. Sexual openness and sharing is classic type B social behaviour. Sexual exclusivity and ownership models are classic type A.  As with the Pan species, so with the humans (who have both gene-sets). 

Now this is just a hypothesis based on facts I know, with a lot of extrapolation by myself, I would be very interested if any geneticists could build on this – suggest ways I may be wrong, or additional data that supports it. Humans are capable of rationality but it's equally true that we act far less rational in our actions than we think. So I'm merely trying to work out why capitalists are so assured that all people are like them (and so socialism and collectivism can never work) while socialists are just as certain that all people are like them (so capitalism can never work).

I think it may be because about half of us really are one way, and the other half are the other way – the challenge of the 21st century is to work out how to coexist. Star Trek suggested that technology would end scarcity and with it, capitalism, after all – how can you have a market when the supply of everything is infinite ? But so far we've seen the opposite happen – where scarcity ended, it was artificially reintroduced by capitalists to preserve markets, using the full coercive might of the state to enforce that artificial scarcity. This is not a suitable way forward, in the long term more and more we will overcome scarcity (especially as we move to more sustainable models of production that are less dependent on non-renewable resources), so to preserve artificial scarcity will require more and more direct state control over every aspect of our lives (exactly the thing capitalists claim to be against in socialism).

Personally I see the only viable economy in future to be a gift-economy (one form of socialism), based on the type-B approach. It's the only way not to lose all freedom. But to get there, we will need to find a way to get all the type-A people among us to accept that you don't need hierarchical leadership societies of winners and losers.  This goes as much against their nature as their approach goes against mine. To be honest, I haven't the slightest idea how to coexist. Travel is too easy, merely living in different places is no longer a solution, it hasn't been for a long time. The insatiable greed of type A will always lead them to conquer the type B communities as soon as those communities have enough wealth to be worth robbing, and the mere infinite supply of resources will not quench their desire to control more of it, for controlling resources is the most fundamental way to control over people – to get higher up the pyramid, and if the pyramid is dismantled everything in the type-A nature demands it be reconstructed. 

I look forward to the comments on this one, but be advised, all flames will be deleted without comment. Any attempt to deny the viability of either model (on it's own at least) will be deemed a flame.




  • Wob

    Interesting thoughts/theories. I also wonder sometimes what the “right” answer to a society structure would be(One day when we figure it out.). Nothing up to this point seems to have worked long-term. Thanks for sharing. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/alison.lewis.505 Alison Lewis

    AJ, I have a similar theory I’ve been mulling over for years. I am considering writing a thesis on it (even though I’m not in a degree program of any kind). I’d like to reference and cite your blog in my work.

    • http://silentcoder.co.za silentcoder

      You are quite welcome to do so. I would love to read your work when you’re done.