Friday, May 22, 2015

The Mystery of Capital



“In medieval latin “capital” appears to have denoted head of cattle or other livestock which has always been important sources of wealth beyond the basic meat that they provide. Livestock are low maintenance possessions. They are mobile and can be moved away from danger. They are also easy to count and measure. But most important, from livestock you can obtain additional wealth, of surplus value, by setting in motion other industries including milk, hides, wool, meat and fuel. Livestock also have the useful attribute of being able to reproduce themselves. Thus the term capital begins to do two jobs. Simultaneously capturing the physical dimension of assets (livestock) as well as their potential to generate surplus value.”
What a wonderful way to put so abstract a concept. That’s from Peruvian social scientist Hernando DeSoto’s brilliant book, The Mystery of Capital.

Let’s be Ubercapitalist and see everything in terms of capital.
Life is like capital. In nature all living organisms are able to make use of raw materials to transform them into useful energy and functions.
Living things make surplus value out of materials and other life in a continuous ongoing process. Grass grows from the soil, the sun, and the rain. Cows eat grass and feed themselves and produce milk for their young. We make and consume dairy products and meat products. Bacteria live in our guts and make use of our waste products.

We need to understand that the nature of capital has a continuity that encompasses our human existence but goes beyond it to take in a larger circle. Life itself maintains and thrives by taking in raw materials and processing them into food and structural materials.

One of the commonalities of life processes and capital is ability to generate new things: descendants in the case of life, and income flows, in the case of humans.

But why stop at the living world why not consider the solar system? Starts out as a cloud of hydrogen and bits of flotsam and jetsam from a previous supernova. Then coalesces by the force of gravity into one big solar furnace called the sun; and the planets circling around the sun, so much smaller than the sun, were made from accretions of asteroid and comet bergy bits, created by gravity and sheer impact.

The sun: surplus value, a lot more useful energy than a cloud of hydrogen molecules. And the planets: the existence of life, human society, and property could not exist without them.

Why stop at the solar system?  What about the universe?  Big bang gives birth to the Universe – talk about surplus value:  everything from nothing.


Is it magic?? Of course in nature, only humans agree to divide land and things into property and have this property available to exchange for sums of money. Remember those qualities of cattle that de Soto talked about: the cattle were countable, movable, exchangable, and they gave surplus value. This is what drives human economics.

Think of mathematics. Mathematicians can generate beautiful geometric solids, wonderful infinite number series, entire worlds of imaginary objects. All from ideas.

But not just ideas. It’s our mind’s ability to convert space and time into equal units and then to manipulate those units by adding, dividing and multiplying them into forms and objects of wondrous variety. These objects do not exist in reality as some ideal forms, they are created and maintained by the collective acts of humans from all around the world.
What humans can do that the rest of nature cannot is to use collective agreement to create a system of property rights that propels capital forward.

Like mathematics, our economy exists and grows by virtue of collective agreements between humans to abstract out of reality certain features that allow for countability, transformability, and lower transaction costs. This is the role of property in most places where people make exchanges, but most dramatically in our modern economic system of Global Capitalism.

Suppose we organize a system of exchange where anyone can buy or sell units of property.  But how do we organize this market?  First we have to define a unit of account that will be used to measure the value of each property.  The property will have been surveyed as to its location and dimensions, or identified through description or serial number if it is an object.  

In order to make such units of account, descriptions, official surveys, etc. recognizable and acceptable there needs to be a legal system that describes property in a systematic way, and handles disputes between property-rights holders.  In order for this system to work there must be a government and the institutions of courts, schools, some sort of technology such as print, electronic files, etc..  that records transactions.  

Also, in order for the system to work the government needs adequate force and authority.  If marauding Vikings can plunder and pillage towns along the coast with impunity then communities lack an effective central government.  

Perhaps even more importantly there needs to be adequate trust within and between groups of people. All agreements require trust. Without trust commerce and trade diminish severely.  

The inculcation of trust requires complex social coordination that is enabled by the raising and schooling of children,  and the passing on  of recognizable customs, procedures, cultural habits and expectations from generation to generation.  

Trust also depends on perceived fairness in society.  The more inequality in a society, the more perceived unfairness, and the more likely that generalized trust in government, institutions, and other people will break down.

Social coordination and cooperation are at the beginnings and end of the story of capital and the real source of surplus value.  Capital is really social capital. Surplus value comes from the human ability to cooperate and make lasting agreements.

If we don’t begin to understand both human nature and social capital we will vastly accelerate our downfall.   By coming to understand this we can build economic systems from the ground up to be fair and  sustainable.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Birth of Reason


The use of a common measure makes it possible for one to cooperate with many  other people to lay foundations and to  build a house.  It facilitates  agreement on the size and dimensions of the house, the size of the materials that go into its construction, and  its location relative to the boundaries between one’s property and  one’s neighbour’s.  This is not possible without an agreed upon measure based on a template that can be used over and over again.  This template we call a foot, a meter, an inch or a centimeter.    


Similarly we can only build organizations and social institutions that depend upon high degrees of cooperation by using a more general template and one that not only makes common measures possible but vastly predates them.  This is a template we call ‘reason’.  By our collective ability to adopt and replicate  common standards of evidence, discourse, accuracy, logic, conduct, equality, and fairness we make it possible to create and sustain social institutions like schools, governments,  law courts, monetary and financial systems,  and public health systems.    


Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher whose writing influenced both European Christendom and Islamic civilization in the middle ages,  called humans the rational animal, thus marking reason as  the ability that distinguishes us from all other animals.   But it is interesting how little we have advanced in our understanding of human nature since Aristotle’s time twenty-four hundred years ago.  It’s only in the last fifty years that archaeological discoveries have accumulated enough evidence to suggest a deeper concept of human nature.  


Plato, Aristotle’s teacher, identified reason with only part of humanity.  Plato’s idea is that there is a kind of natural division of labour amongst humans, and only those people who have the advanced capacity to learn mathematics and have been taught to transcend their appetites possess reason.  This led to Plato’s political theory that there should be a special class of guardians who are kept separate from everyone else and raised and educated based on the principles of reason.  


I tend to side with Aristotle but not with Plato.  I think reason is a commons available to everyone. Humans  really are the rational animal.  But now that we have more scientific knowledge of animals, and of our evolutionary past I think it’s time to take a new look at our origins, at just what it is that made us into human beings, and so distinct from other animals.  


How did we get from violence to reason?  How did we get from animal to human?  It couldn’t have happened through the use of reason, because we didn’t have it before we were human.  Nor is it likely to have happened through altruism because altruism is not rewarded by better chances for survival in ape societies.  We didn’t reason our way into using reason.  We can thus rule out the idea that the greater good was  our original motivation for adopting reason.

If we can trust Plato’s account of his teacher Socrates in The Symposium, Socrates argued that the way to knowledge of the good was through eros.  Love of beauty led us to love of moral goodness in a process that at the end, involves the taming of the passions.  This is a remarkable passage, which I believe points to a fundamental truth of human nature.  We achieved reason by first using passion to guide us and later putting controls on our passions.  

We can consider that our day-to-day emotions are evidence of the struggles in our ancient past.  Humans could have been far more violent and less cooperative, but we have psychological, social, and political mechanisms for controlling violent behaviour and we use all of them all of the time.   


I believe that the urge to dominate others is instinctive and predates all human society.  Our childhood is largely a socialization process where we learn a panoply of  emotional responses that act to control our urge to dominate.  Consider the power of feeling embarrassment, shame or guilt.  Those who lack these feelings have largely been eliminated from the gene pool, but they still  exist as a small minority that we label - psychopath or sociopath.   As far as we know, apes don’t have these feelings either.


Chimpanzees are humans closest relatives.  We share 99% of the same DNA.   Male chimps have bigger arms and shoulders than humans.  They are strong enough to literally tear one of us apart, something they sometimes do to their own kind.  Chimp society is a lot more violent than human society is. Chimpanzees  live in  a male dominant hierarchy similar to what we see in  human gangs.


Chimpanzees do not  pair-bond.  The norm in chimp society is a kind of hierarchical promiscuity.  Most human societies are predominantly monogamous, and this goes for nomadic hunter-gatherer societies, the simplest of human societies and the closest to  the way our ancient ancestors lived.


Why would the first human group choose monogamy when they could have more pleasure from sleeping around, and wouldn’t this fatally undermine a monogamous system?


The answer is not obvious but it is supported by some key facts.  The  self-organizing state of alpha dominance hierarchy was the default state.  In this state, the majority of males had slim pickings, and would have been better off with monogamy but they were prevented from getting there by the alpha male.  This situation would be stable unless some change could tip the balance permanently in favour of  the majority of males because otherwise every time the alpha male was eliminated, someone new filled his place.  


As much as we think we observe plenty of instinctual behaviour in contemporary politics and social life,  we can also observe that most leaders are not alpha males.  They are leading because of their intelligence and abilities, and because groups of us collectively choose them as leaders.


Most of the time, we don’t need to assassinate or physically subdue our leaders to replace them,  Humans hold their societies together through internalizing moral precepts, through social peer pressure, and through building cooperative social institutions.  This is not self-organizing.  It is not possible through people acting from  their self-interest alone.   It takes continuous effort and conscious decision making. It requires the use of reason, and the conscious adherence to impersonal rules, sometimes in opposition to our own interests.    


This is a messy bother if you don’t need it.  To live in a small isolated group under the shadow of an alpha male is to live in a stable hierarchy, at least until the alpha is toppled.  But, when homo habilis, an early hominin, invented stone tools sometime around two million years ago it   suddenly   gave anyone the means to overthrow the alpha male.  This set the stage for homo erectus, the first monogamous human.


Stone-age technology created a niche for monogamy by making monogamy a more stable alternative to dominance hierarchies.  This is the conclusion of Canadian Anthropologist Bernard Chapais as I have understood from his book  Primeval Kinship.  Homo Erectus is the more gracile tall hominin, the first hominin to spread out of Africa into the Continents of Asia and Europe, and the first of our ancestors to control fire.  The sexual dimorphism (size difference)  between male and female in homo erectus is very similar to sapiens dimorphism.  Chapais argues that this dimorphism, which is smaller in chimps and larger in gorillas, corresponds to a species that pair-bonds.


 The large size difference between the dominant male silverback gorilla and the gorilla female is associated with  a polygamous society in gorillas.  One male controls a harem of females, and there is no pair-bonding.  According to Chapais, homo habilis and australopithecus, the probable ancestors of homo erectus had a greater sexual dimorphism than humans, one that was closer to that of gorillas.


Once homo habilis invented stone weapons, it became too easy for subordinates to kill the alpha, and so the hierarchy became unstable.  As long as there were males with no mates and males with more than one, there was more potential for violence.  The greater size and strength of the alpha, which  had kept this violence in check before, would have failed to maintain stability in the face of the new technology.  


What distinguishes humans from other species is our ability to cooperate and connect with each other.  For tens of thousands of years  we have covered the globe in a myriad of different societies speaking different languages and yet we are still all part of the same species.


In the stone age, two million years ago, monogamy created more kinship connections and greater group coherence, as well as allowing competition and cooperation on a larger scale. This is the basis for monogamous groups having greater fitness for survival.

Monogamy is not something that can be instituted by individuals pursuing their own self-interest.  Suppose I choose a mate.  What is to stop a stronger male, with more testosterone, from killing me and taking my mate? There must be a collective agreement to establish or maintain monogamy.  In other words, monogamy may have been the first instance of conscious, non-self-organizing system maintained over sustained lengths of time.


In order to maintain monogamy we needed to police our group as a whole, to actively detect and suppress public alpha behaviour, and this  is how we would have begun the collective establishment of  standards of conduct and evidence.  


Reason  is fundamentally collective. Standards of accuracy, sincerity, truth, objectivity,  fairness, and good or bad behaviour all stand or fall by collective agreement. They are irreducibly social because part of what it means  to believe and follow them, is our belief and trust that others will adhere to the  same standards.


In other words, adhering to rules and standards is partly contagious.  If we see everyone else doing it we will do the same.  But if we see no-one else doing it, we won’t do it either.


When we follow a standard we are abandoning pure self-interest.  There will be times when no-one else is around and we can get away with not following the standard but we choose to follow the rule even in those times. This works as long as we believe that most others are likely to do the same.  When we stop believing this we usually act accordingly.  


Reason was a consequence of our becoming monogamous it was not something that we imagined that we needed. Nor was it a faculty that was magically given to us by a god. The decision to go monogamous, because it meant conscious organizing rather than staying with a self-organizing system,  is the original challenge that led to the development of human reason.


The special thing about reason is that by agreeing to and following standards we make human society possible. Yet, it is not that the first humans planned to create a society.  They just fell into being human by collectively choosing monogamy.  

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Power of Walking

You may be surprised to learn that walking could be the most effective exercise for maintaining lifetime physical fitness, good balance, and  a healthy mind. We take walking for granted, but there is a considerable amount of muscle coordination that goes into  those alternating movements of the body:  the swinging of the arms, the gentle twisting of our torso, the weight bearing and lifting of each leg.


In the developed Western world we are experiencing an epidemic of chronic back pain, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and depression.  It is no coincidence that all  of these diseases are  largely caused by inactivity.


 People have become less active because of the automobile, TV and computers.  We spend more time sitting at work and at home than we used to. The irony is that if we just spent at least  thirty minutes a day walking we could all be in better physical shape.  


All the chronic diseases I’ve mentioned cost our health systems plenty.  Yet they are preventable.   And walking is the easiest and most cost-effective form of activity.     It is appropriate for all ages, it is safer than other kinds of exercise  and it can be done in graduated  ‘steps’ from baby steps all the way to aerobic ‘exercise walking’ and ‘nordic walking’ with poles.


A year ago, after suffering two bouts of back seizures I discovered the benefits of walking for gently increasing my back’s  range of motion and have been going on regular walks ever since, in spite of my usual preference for cycling.


They say the best things in life are free. To go for a walk with an old friend, and along the way, have a relaxed unhurried conversation - what could be a greater pleasure?


Some of the great English poets like Wordsworth and Byron were serious walkers and there is something to be said for taking a walk in order to think deep thoughts or to mull over something in your mind.


If nothing else, a brisk walk can do wonders to improve one’s  mood and lower stress levels.   It works faster than antidepressants, with mood improvements in minutes instead of weeks, and unlike the pills, all the side effects are beneficial.


People used to walk out of necessity. Then the automobile was invented and you know the rest.   But now that we don’t need to walk to get places we can think of walking in a different way. When I go for my daily walk in Prince Rupert I hear the mysterious and mischievous cries and squawks of the ravens, see them canoodling in pairs and wheeling and diving for the sheer fun of it.   It’s a way to take in the fresh air and to see our natural surroundings.  Walking can do a lot to  strengthen our sense of place.  


And walking doesn’t just have psychological and physical benefits.  It also has social benefits.  It is a very effective community builder.  The more people out walking, the more people are visible outside, bringing the street and the sidewalk back to life.  Walkable cities are more attractive cities, cities that younger millennials want to live and work in.  


Making cities more human-scale and walkable can be done partly by inexpensive changes such as improving and enlarging sidewalks, installing pedestrian lights and traffic calming devices.  


We ought to prioritize walking in city and in public health planning.  The more people walking the less traffic congestion, the healthier and fitter the general public, the safer and pleasanter our neighbourhoods.  Unlike motor vehicles, walking does not lead to more CO2 in the atmosphere.  There are, in fact, no downsides to walking.

If we consider quality of life, walking should be right up there as a top priority.  Chronic illnesses erode the  quality of life.  There is probably  no activity that can do more to prevent and reverse chronic disease for more people than walking. To learn more about the benefits, visit my facebook site Rupertwalks. It's full of fun videos and articles that will help to motivate and inspire.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Monogamy - A Theory of Human Nature

In his recent book Sapiens,  Yuval Noah Harari does a great service by sketching a plausible theory of human nature, while avoiding the dense thicket of  details and controversy that goes along with just about every other scientific account of this fascinating topic.

Here’s the gist of his theory:  “Many animals and human species could previously say  ‘Careful! A  Lion!’  Thanks to the Cognitive Revolution,  Homo Sapiens acquired the ability to say:   ‘The lion is the guardian spirit of our tribe.’  This ability to speak about fictions is the most unique feature of Sapiens language.”

“ But fiction has enabled us not merely to imagine things but to do so collectively.  We can weave common myths such as the biblical creation story, the Dreamtime myths of the Aboriginal Australians, and the nationalist myths of modern states.  Such myths give Sapiens the unprecedented ability to cooperate flexibly in large numbers.  Ants and bees can also work together in huge numbers, but they do so in a very rigid manner and only with close relatives.  Wolves and chimpanzees cooperate far more flexibly than ants, but they can do so only with small numbers of individuals that they know intimately.  Sapiens can cooperate in extremely flexible ways with countless numbers of strangers.  That’s why Sapiens rule the world, whereas ants eat our leftovers and chimps are locked up in zoos and research laboratories.”

Where I disagree with Harari is how he labels mankind’s defining ability as the ability to collectively believe fictions.  In contrast, I would say that humans’ defining ability is the ability to create and sustain a social reality by recognizing, accepting and sustaining limits to our behaviour.  

It may appear, by using contradictory terms such as ‘fiction’  and ‘social reality’  that we are referring to two different things. But, by calling collective beliefs ‘fictions’  Harari is correctly emphasizing that human creations are based on subjective states of mind.  Money does not exist independently of collective belief, for instance.  

When a magician says ‘Abracadabra’  and pulls a rabbit out of his hat, he is creating the illusion that saying   the magic  word can create a reality.  Why does this illusion work?  Because we do create reality by saying words and the effects are real, not fictional.  What is taken for granted is that this social reality is based on collective agreement.

When my wife and I both said  ‘I do’  during our wedding ceremony  we helped to create public acknowledgement of our marriage.

There is no state of marriage in nature.  Marriage is a human concept, but it is not simply an agreement between two people, it is a collective agreement between everyone in society.  The presence of others as witnesses to the marriage demonstrates this. It’s the agreement that makes it real, that creates real effects.  If this were not so, then there would be no point in a marriage ceremony.
Swans, and geese can live monogamously, but they are not in a state of marriage, because their relationship is based on biology, not on acceptance by  feathered friends and relatives.  

My thesis like Harari’s is that collective agreement is what distinguishes humanity, but unlike Harari, and most other scholars and scientists, I believe that in particular the collective agreement to institute monogamy is what led to humankind.  

Chimpanzees our closest living primate relatives, are promiscuous and ruled by an alpha male, and his coalition.  There is almost no ‘sexual dimorphism’ no size difference, between male and female chimps.

Sexual dimorphism is quite pronounced in gorillas, where the huge silverback alpha male rules a harem of much smaller females.  Polygyny  (polygamy) in animals seems to be associated with more striking sexual dimorphism.  

By examining archaeological evidence, we can surmise that some of our ancient ancestors were not monogamous and some were.  Australopithecus, the first ancestor to walk on two feet had less dimorphism than gorillas, but much more than humans and chimps.  But, homo erectus, who evolved millions of years after australopithecus, and was the first primate to use fire and migrate out of Africa, had much less dimorphism.  In fact, homo erectus had very similar sexual dimorphism to humans:  more size difference between the sexes than chimpanzees, but less difference than gorillas or australopithecus.


According to Bernard Chapais, Anthropologist at University of Montreal, and author of Primeval Kinship, polygyny became an unstable system when homo habilis, the ancestor of homo erectus, invented stone knives and tools approximately two and a half million years ago.  Stone-age technology enabled nerdish homo erectus the easy means of bypassing superior muscle power by developing superior knife or spear tactics. This made a polygynous system where physically stronger males restricted access to their females, an unstable arrangement, because physical strength could now be defeated by technology.   

I don’t think that it is a coincidence that homo erectus was the first primate to walk out of Africa, nor that erectus was the first to control fire.  I believe that monogamy was the key to HE’s  enhanced social abilities.

 If, indeed, monogamy led to human culture, the change to monogamy did not occur because humans wanted to have culture, or all the unseen benefits of a monogamous system.  Humans agreed to monogamy in order to facilitate pair-bonding.  That stuff about ‘fatherhood’,  ‘in-laws’, prolonged childhood, bigger brains, and language did not even exist in people’s imaginations at the time.  It was all about dealing with jealousy and sexual possession.  It was about desire.  It was not desire to rise above nature it was just natural desire.

Nevertheless, the effects of monogamy were truly revolutionary.  The two million years that humans were monogamous hunter-gatherers was the crucible for human evolution.  This is the time period when brains grew significantly larger, and jaws and teeth grew smaller.  As brains got bigger, female humans needed to give birth to bigger babies, but there was only so much room.  Something had to give.  That something was developmental readiness in human infants.

 Human babies are totally helpless, and their nervous system is undeveloped compared to other animals at birth.  Our period of infancy and childhood, where we require much attention and provisioning and are incapable of surviving on our own, is much longer than any other animal.   It was made possible by the sexual division of labour.  Females gather and cook.  Males hunt and fight. That’s what makes a longer childhood and bigger brains possible.  

But note that the division of labour, in turn, is made possible by monogamy.  You can’t have a division of labour in a household  if you don’t share.  One of the things that monogamy does is to increase the amount shared between male and female partners.  Bernard Chapais and others have pointed out how many benefits come from monogamy.  Recognition of paternity becomes more plausible.  An adult male has more incentive to provision his mate and offspring.  Monogamy could have set off a multiplier effect that ultimately led to human language and culture.  

Here’s how it would work.  I might want to be monogamous, but as long as someone else in the group can take my partner away from me, I can’t realize my preferences.  Suppose everyone was sick and tired of fighting and killing over females.  We decided that from now on everyone gets to be paired up and anyone who tries to take more than their share is punished.  For this to work we not only need to detect cheating, we need to publicize and vigorously punish it.  Any group that neglects detection and punishment soon ends up with more violence and instability.  Groups that pay attention to detecting and punishing cheaters are able to maintain a monogamous system and reap the benefits.

Monogamy means the collective recognition of pair-bonding, which is, in important ways, analogous to our concept of reciprocity and fairness and the principle of the golden rule:  do unto others as you would have would them do unto yourself.  Furthermore it requires the institution of rough equality between men and it unlocks the possibility of equality between the sexes.

A question the reader may be asking at this point is if what I am saying is valid then how come we have so much polygyny in the world?  Note that polygyny in humans is not universal, but it exists mostly in traditional agricultural societies, where landowners  or animal herders are sometimes able to amass surplus wealth.

In hunting and gathering societies, which are largely nomadic, people can only keep as many possessions as they can carry on their bodies.  Therefore surplus wealth is unlikely, and thus polygyny in hunter gatherers is only practiced by a small minority.  

Indeed because polygyny means that  women are monopolized by a single male, there are going to be men who lack a mate and who may be willing to fight in order to get one.  This weakens the hunting and gathering band making them more vulnerable to social disruption.  It would make sense that groups that enforced monogamy would better survive, because they would be more likely to share equitably and to act collectively to protect the group.   

Remember, individual humans, even nuclear families, cannot survive without being part of a larger group.  Most of these bands comprise groups of thirty to ninety people.  Too few and they can’t survive over generations, too many and dissension and violence split the group up.  

To sum up so far: two million years of human evolution equals two million years of human monogamy.  Our evidence for this thesis is the degree of sexual dimorphism in humans and homo erectus, suggesting that erectus and sapiens eschewed chimpanzee type promiscuity and gorilla type polygyny.  Then there is the fact  that monogamy is prevalent in almost all human societies.  Promiscuity is less prevalent, and polygyny is least prevalent.

It cannot be a coincidence that today’s hunter and gatherers all have a similar egalitarian ideology of encouraging sharing, discouraging boasting, inequality, greediness, selfishness, public aggression and bullying, as documented by Christopher Boehm, Lee, and others.    It is not likely that this ideology just happened to develop, since it is common to nomadic hunter gatherers no matter what part of the world they are from.  It is more likely that this suppression of public male dominance behaviours developed universally because it was necessary for group survival.


What mating systems have in common is that they are about  social control, but what is unique about monogamy is how effective it is as a way to control male behaviour outside the immediate family.  By separating sexual competition from other forms of competition it allowed a greater proportion of males to flourish and to benefit their families and societies.  To repeat: The path to differentiation between humans and animals came from our ability to create and sustain social reality by recognizing, accepting, and sustaining limits to our behaviour.

Of course, we may be aware of how monogamy breaks down through divorce, abandonment, affairs, etc.  The point is that it exists in all human societies even though our natural feelings may influence us to violate it.  

We can think of human society as a kind of kluge,  A contraption built in a haphazard way by using whatever bits and pieces of things are immediately at hand.  Every element of human culture comes from our primal ability to agree to form and follow rules of behaviour where we expect others to follow these rules equally.

Sometimes those expectations are disappointed.   The environment always intervenes to create inequalities, and we come up with further modifications in order to constantly deal with the  centrifugal pressures from the environment threatening to pull us apart.  Monogamy, kinship, language, myths, religion, government, money, legal systems, educational systems, science,  all created to sustain social cooperation.

The anchor for human society is monogamy because it is the first sustainable institution that incorporates collective agreement to limit behaviour and to honour those limits through a rough equality.  By deciding on monogamy our ancestors made equality possible, and by developing social methods of control:  shaming, ridicule, shunning, and banning, our ancestors created a method of maintaining monogamy in the face of centrifugal natural desires.  

My belief is that monogamy forms the very basis of human nature, it being the first lasting human institution that was consciously created and sustained by collective agreement.  The agreement to institute monogamy forms the template for all human institutions including language because all human institutions arise from collective agreement to limit behaviour and to recognize and sustain these limits by various social means.

While some would argue that human language is the ‘ur’ institution, I believe I can make a plausible case that monogamy preceded language and actually makes language possible.  In language we have developed representations of reality called ‘words’.  These representations can be created and assembled by individuals and then shared.  This sharing implies a rough equality, in that in order to understand what is said it is agreed by everyone that specific words refer to specific things or classes of things.

 Grammar and syntax - the structure of languages - could have developed from step by step collective agreements about how words can be combined to  refer to various aspects of the world. Before monogamy was instituted, dominance hierarchies precluded equality and equal sharing.  There was less incentive to share information, so there would have been less incentive  for  a group to agree to common meanings and to follow rules of grammar in combining words and phrases.

On a deep level speaking and listening to others speak requires trust.  The moment I detect that someone is trying to take advantage of me is the moment that I stop listening to them.  I share information with others as long as I believe that they are not going to harm me.  This trust is made possible when we believe that everyone else is following rules and not taking advantage.

Monogamy is not an instinct, nor a default behaviour that we can fall back on, but a system of behaviour that requires high maintenance in order to be sustainable and yet we have managed to make it the prevalent mode of conduct over the vast span of human existence.

By stripping away the effects of wealth and surplus on behaviour we get in nomadic hunter gatherer peoples a minimalist set of conditions, the bare bones required to sustain human society.  These behaviours involve collective social controls on male domination outside the family, owing partly to the fact that our survival depends on living together in groups that include more than a single family.  By maintaining a rough equality between men, monogamy made greater trust and social cooperation possible and led to all the advantages of human culture including and especially the gift of language.