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Seeing Fairness Evolve

• August 31, 2012 • 9:09 AM

Our multimedia presentation on the evolution of fairness continues with an explanation of how those with more convince those with less that their culture remains fair.

Previous: How Inequality Began

According to Brian Hayden, the game changing factor is surplus. While there must have been “aggrandizer” personalities in egalitarian groups, conditions of scarcity kept their greedier inclinations in check. If anyone’s behavior violated the group’s norms of fairness, they were booted out. Excommunication from the group was a virtual death sentence—for the crime of failing to cooperate with friends and family. While this may seem harsh from today’s perspective, it was necessary for the group to survive.

As scarcity transitioned to plenty, the aggrandizers were freed to pursue their goals. Their selfish behavior was no longer grounds for excommunication, because everyone was able to get enough to eat—if they were willing to work. Slowly, through a variety of strategies such as bride prices and competitive feasts, aggrandizers consolidated their power. They developed new sorts of relationships based on debt and obligation. Eventually these strategies led to establishment of private property rights over valuable resources, such as the fishing rocks in the Fraser Canyon.

In the final video of this series, Brian explains how these strategies might have been instituted gradually, but eventually changed the nature of their society. He also addresses the question central to our own investigation—how did the aggrandizers manage to convince the others in the group that this new arrangement was fair?

Next: The Judgment of Fairness

Alan Honick with Gordon Orians
Alan Honick is a documentary filmmaker who has focused on issues of ecology and human sustainability for most of his career. Gordon Orians, a behavioral ecologist, is a professor emeritus at the University of Washington. His most intensive research area has been behavioral ecology, primarily with problems of habitat selection, mate selection, and mating systems. Recently he has focused on human emotional responses to environments.

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