How 10,000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth


By Peter Turchin


Beresta Books

Chaplin, Connecticut







2 – The International Space Station has taken 3 million people years. 


3- People who say we can overcome borders by individual initiatives are nice.  But, we need to work together to stop violence and poverty.  Cooperation is the answer.


4 – In 1991 Russia the USSR had a failing of cooperation and fragmented into 15 new states.  The economy shrank by 50 %.


5 - The international order really only goes back to 1945 and the UN founding.


6 – We need to measure things. 

The cathedral of Notre Dame came about via cooperation, not because a king ordered it. 


8 – It took 15,000 people years.

The colosseum of Rome was paid for by Vespassian’s looting of Jerusalem when they smashed the temple in 70 AD.


9 – The Pyramids took 400,000 people years.


10 – Gobeklians built a Stonehenge type thing.


12 – We reverse engineer and look for the most efficient way to build things.  But, having masses of people working together was much the idea of ancient buildings.


14 – Complex societies and such structures only started around 12,000 years ago.


15 – For millions of years social insects were the leaders of social evolution.  During the Pleistocene our level of cooperation was not distinguishable from that of other primates.



PAGE 16 Chart


Years ago       Type               people in it


200,000         10s                  Foraging bands

10,000                        100s,               Farming villiages

7,500              1,000s                        Simple chiefdoms

7,000              10,000                        Complex chiefdoms (three – tier administration)

5,000              100,000         Archaic States

4,500              1,000,000      Macrostates

2.500              10 millions     Mega-Empires

200                 100s millions Large Nation-States


The Giza pyramids were built around 2500 bc ad had 1 – 2 million in the population.


17 – This is beginning to approach the cooperation of social insects.


18 – We don’t need a theory about why Rome collapsed, we need one about empires generally.


19 – Most archeologists and anthropologists (Guns Germs and Steel) think agriculture created large scale societies.  Not  Turchin.

Remember, bureaucracies and hierarchies needed to run such empires are costly.


20 – Multilevel selection says competition.


21 – Geography and agriculture are important.  But, the key to predicting the rise of large states is patterns of warfare.

A few hundred thousand years ago we lived in societies that had few distinctions beyond age, gender and reputation. 


22 – Then 10,000 years ago, alpha males re-emerged.

Then we had the axial age reversal.

Why? War: a force of destructive creation.







25 – In the Barbarous Years, Bernard Bailyn tells of the horrors perpetrated on losers in Native American wars.

Like on the cover of culturism, other early images show villages were barricaded.


26 – We read of many horrors and Lawrence Keeley type finds.  


27 – And this wasn’t due to corruption by Europeans.


28 – Starting in about 700 AD, the “Asian War Complex” appeared in Alaska and spread south.  It was a recurved bow, backed with sinew.  Wherever it appeared, intense warfare followed.

James Chatters looked at all full skeletons from North America that were more than 9,000 years old.  60 percent of male and 20 percent of female skeletons had skull fractures, penetrating wounds or both.


29 – These were foragers.

South of Sudan, the world’s oldest cemetery, from 13,000 years ago, before agriculture, 40 were killed by archers.

Cannibalism, mass killings, homocides, and assault injuries are well documented in the Old and New Worlds.

Homocide rates for Bushmen are 4 times higher than in the US.


31- Where did all the bad guys go?


32 – To answer this we need consilience and an evolutionary focus.


33 – Darwin had a group selection theory.  And, roll the Social Darwinism disclaimer. Boas fought, but to no avail.


34 – The foundational works for sociobiology are Genes, Mind, and Culture: The Coevolutionary Process (1981) by E O Wilson.  2nd is Cultural Transmission and Evolution: A Quantitative Approach by Feldman.  3rd is Culture and Ebvolutionary Process (1985) Richerson and Boyd.


35 – Founding the Society for the Study of Cultural Evolution was another big step. 

Dobzhansky said, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. We must change this to “Nothing in social life makes sense except in the light of cultural evolution.”


36 – Cooperation and warfare have been the keys to our success.  Cooperation makes us more than a collective of individuals.  It makes a society. 


37 – It is fairly easy to organize collective action in small societies.  Not so with larger ones. 

In the 1960s Afghanistan was very safe.  Cooperation can collapse.

38 – But the trend is towards cooperation as larger societies have squeezed out smaller ones.

“God is on the side of the big battalions.” 

When people first started planting, war got more intense.  Because evolutionary pressures were so grave, we got better at war.  This meant inventions and ramping up social cohesion.  But, getting larger was the most important factor.


39 – But size brings a whole host of coordination problems.   We still have failed states that have not got the cultural mechanisms to sustain cooperation and build cohesion. 


40 – As war created large states, empires, nations, societies evolved mechanisms to suppress internal conflict and violence.  Reduced violence = cooperation. 

We had wars, but they moved away from the center to the ‘frontlines’. 


41 – “There is no contradiction between large armies and larger butcher’s bills from warfare, on the one hand, and on the other a greater part of the population enjoying peace.” 

It’s not the number killed, but the percentage killed.

There was war with barbarians during pax romana.  But, there was internal peace.


42 – “Defeated societies must face consequences ranging from paying reparations or tribute to losing political independence and cultural identity.  At the worst end of the spectrum, it might succumb to wholesale genocide.

            “Here’s how war serves to weed out societies that ‘go bad.’ When discipline, imposed by the need to survive conflict gets relaxed, societies lost their ability to cooperate. A reactionary catchphrase of the 1970s used to go, “what this generation needs is a war,” a deplorable sentiment but one that in terms of cultural evolution might sometimes have a germ of cold logic.  At any rate, there is a pattern that we see recurring throught history, when a successful empire expands its borders so far that it becomes the biggest kid on the block,. When survival is no longer at stake, selfish elites and other special interest groups capture the political agenda. The spirit that ‘we are all in the same boat’ disappears and is replaced by a ‘winner take all’ mentality.  As the elites enrich themselves . . . rampant inequality of wealth further corrodes cooperation.  Beyond a certain point a formerly great empire becomes so dysfunctional that smaller, more cohesive neighbors begin tearing it apart.” 


43 – The problem of blaming empire collapse on moral decay, as Kaldun, Polybius, Gibbon and Spengler did is that they don’t explain why moral decay sets in.

Cooperation can unravel quickly, unless countered by ‘forces of destructive creation.’


44 – War made society.  But why was cooperation so difficult in the first place?







45 - Here he tells of the destruction wrought by Jeff Skiling’s belief in the selfish gene while running Enron.  The HR dept ran on the philosophy of Rank-and-Yank.  So people got viscous.


48 – Putnam put our declining social capital down to the passing of the ‘long civic generation.’


49 – Our political and business elite had a spirit of cooperation.  Then in the 1980s something happened.  Individualism took over as an ideology.


52 – 1940s books talked about cooperation five times more than books published in 1900.  But in the 1980s it went into decline.  And, in 2015, books are half as likely to mention it as in 1975.


53 – In examining 8 examples of social instability, conflict and – sometimes – collapse, he found unraveling cooperation to be a lead indicator of social collapse.


56 – The problem is that cooperation not only has benefits, it has costs.  What if you go to war and some folks don’t fight?  They may get the benefits, then again you may all lose and be killed.


57 – But as ‘rational agents’ some will not fight.  If it is 999 or 1000 fighting, you reckon, it don’t matter.  Your best strategy is to defect.


59 – Public goods are those that no one is excluded from enjoying: say roads and radio and natural resources.  But then there is the ‘tragedy of the commons’.


61 – George Williams demolished naēve group selection.  Dawkins popularized it.  But, the ‘nun gene’ (ha) was explained by social insects.


63 – The selfish gene is ingenious, but it doesn’t help explain why a guy falls on a hand grenade for his troop.  It fails to explain the evolution of cooperation. 


63 – But Dawkins is still a fervent foe of group selection.  


64 – He says our wide cooperation is a misfiring based on the fact that when we lived in tribal times, we used to have a high degree of relatedness to our fellow tribesmen.  But, this cannot explain the tremendous intricacy of our modern society with media and institutions, etc.  Being magically transported from one to another is not an explanation.


65 – And, as David Sloan Wilson explains, rather than helping in-group folks, natural selection mostly happens between groups.  And, when kin selection and reciprocal altruism enter into the picture they corrupt society, they are ‘nepotism’ and ‘crony capitalism.’

The selfish gene, individualism, did not make our society cooperative.


66 – the selfish gene is not really a scientific theory.  It makes morality an accident.  Multilevel selection is a scientific theory.

Unequal pay breaks down team cooperation.  So you could set the rewards for the team.






67 – Why do players pass the ball instead of padding their own stats?


68 – You could pay the team by wins. 


69 – But most see paying everyone the same as unfair.

Between 1992 and 2001, teams in the most equal class won an average of eight more games per season than those in the most unequal class.  Same in soccer teams in Japan and Italy.


70 – Americans may overestimate the contribution of individuals.  There is no evidence that bringing in a hot shot CEO improves the long-term prospects of a corporation.


71 – Skilling the Enron CEO could succeed in creating competition within the team.  But, no players would pass the ball.  Moreover, you could find yourself attacking your number one player. 


72 – Chimps hunt cooperatively. But not as much as we do.  Teamwork pays.  But they must be able to avoid free riders.


73 – The key?  “Cooperation within groups destroys cooperation, but competition between groups creates cooperation.”


74 – Studies show that soccer teams that pass the ball more often win more games.


75 – The majority of scientists today work in teams.

The new field to study this is “Cultural Multilevel Selection.”  He will discuss all three parts.


76 – Too many social scientists see societies as working through stages.  This is called ‘stadial’.  There is reason for this.  The problem being that this model gives no causal motor for this trend.


77 – Culture is understood broadly as any kind of socially transmitted information passed between members of a society.  It also includes socially transmitted rules of behavior.   Drill, passive observation or imitation can cause facilitate it. 

It can be stored inside the brain and also on paper. 

There being such a variety explains why those in Cultural Evolution like to discuss cultural traits rather than memes.


78 – Not having a mendellian equivalent to genes is a problem for Cultural Evolution academics. But Darwin went very far without knowing about genes.

Let’s look at social trust.  We have a lot of data on that. 

The European Social Survey, for example asked people “Do you believe most people can be trusted?”


79 – Is this a cultural trait?  The key question is if this trait is socially transmitted or individually learned.  The best predictor of trust is the attitude of parents. This makes it socially transmitted.


80 – Edward Banfield’s The Moral Basis of a Backward Society studied an Italian society.  No one trusted anyone and so it couldn’t grow.

There is the story about a dad who drops his hat and asks the kids what he did.  “I don’t know” was the right  answer.  Yes.  If anyone asks you how many goats your father has, “I don’t know” is always the answer.

Learned so cultural.


81 – Hi trust societies are better governed, and more economically productive.  (Which came first he should ask). 

If the brave in a tribe attack first, they will die and cowards will be left.  But, tribes with more brave warriors win Chucky D tells us. So it might increase.

Which is right?  Both are incomplete according to multilevel selection.

In the tribe cowards do better, between tribes brave ones do better.  So how frequent is the warfare and what are the consequences of defeat?  We need to answer these first.

We must know whether the forces of selection are acting more strongly on individuals or groups.  There is a formula for this:


Between Group Variance        Selection Strength on individuals

----------------------------------  > ---------------------------------------

Within-group variance             Selection Strength on groups


This is the Price Equation.


A higher percentage of cooperators allows a tribe to flourish at the expense of its neighbors.   Groups at the extreme (all cooperators or all altruists) is not flexible and cannot evolve because evolution need variation. 


88 – When cooperators interact mainly with other cooperators and free riders deal mainly with other free riders, it is easy for  cooperating traits to spread.  And, quite weak group-level benefits can outweigh the costs of cooperation.


89 – For cooperation to evolve, we need variety and that is best created by random chance.  But, it is a weak force with large groups.  Toss 1,000 coins. 


90 - Migration also makes groups more similar.  Chimp females always disperse.  And, there is lots of movement between hunter gatherer groups.  


91 – People used this to argue against group selection.  But, we have brains.  Our genes via population may migrate, but our culture can still form units of selection.  And, our minds can develop a talent for learning to facilitate this.


92 – The capacity for culture should evolve when the environment changes too fast for genes to keep up, but slow enough for information accumulated by previous generation to be useful.  Either can be facilitated by multilevel selection!


93 – If we just do imitation, it undermines variation within groups. But, it makes groups similar within the group. But variation between groups is likely, therefore to be larger.  Movement between groups doesn’t have so much impact as people assimilate.  Thus cooperation can assimilate more between human groups than animal groups.


 But most evolution, his point is, will be driven by competition between groups.  We cooperate to compete.  

Equality within groups is important to cooperation. At the same time, generations experiment with differences. 






95 – Humans are uniquely good throwers.


96 – Homo habilis (2.3 million years ago), probably threw like a Chimp.  But homo erectus (2 million years ago), could throw well.

This allows throwing at predators which makes living out of trees more possible.  Less climbing meant we could develop an upright position for long-distance running, freed our hands for carrying and wielding objects and optimized our shoulders for throwing rather than hanging.

97 – Our career as carnivores probably began as scavengers who specialized in eating bone marrow.   That is we scavenged marrow after chasing the real predators away.


99 – Getting marrow from an ungulate is not easy. 


100 – Evidence is that the stones used to get the marrow came from several kilometers away.


101 – The bow appeared about 70,000 years ago in South Africa. 

Bon fires brought together large groups for communal activities.

There is debate, but Turchin thinks projectiles are more important than fire.  It caused a pre-human rights revolution.


102 – We are much more egalitarian than Chimps.   Chimps are despotic and this is done by brute intimidation. 

With hands, taking on the alpha male, even while sleeping, is so dangerous.  With a rock, you can dispatch him in his sleep.


103 – Boehm’s Hierarchy in the forest, 1999, shows the egalitarian nature of tribal folk.  This is due to projectiles.


104 – Stoning is an ancient way to punish norm breakers.


105 – And they are good for collective punishment.  Everyone comes around and gives a stab.


106 - A cave painting in Spain seems to show a group punishment by stabbing.

Goliath with a slingshot.


107 – Thus coalitions.  You don’t want people to gang up on you or kill you in your sleep.   Chimps play politics, but humans build mega-coalitions.

According to the social brain theory, we got big brains via individual manipulations of each other for reproductive success.  But, we use political skills to sway the group, more than to trick folks.  And, if we trick them, we lose.


108 – Lipid rich foods like bone marrow provide the building materials for huge brains. This led to smaller guts and freed calories to maintain our brains.

Not needing musculature for male – to – male competition freed more resources for the brain. 

We also need better neuronal circuitry for aiming.  And, we need bigger brains for building coalitions.


109 – This made culture possible, which reduces variation within groups.  This led to more variation between groups which also aided in the evolution of cooperation. 

Several other features also tilt us towards cooperative traits.

One is with moralistic punishment. This punishes free riders.

If enough folks punish, then cooperators are no longer at a disadvantage to free riders. This shuts down in-group competition.

And, “remember that the evolution of cooperation is favored when between-group competition is very intense.  The most extreme form of between-group competition is, of course, war. When (110) we survey the biological worlds, we find only two groups of organisms that practice large-scale warfare: human beings and ants.”






111 – Enga women raise pigs and cultivate sweet potatoes.  The men do war.


112 - 35 % of  Enga men were killed in war or died of battle-related wounds.


113 – There were surprise attacks; maximizing of property destruction; a readiness to ignore the retains of kinship and affinity; refusal to recognize non-combatant status; the mutilation of fallen enemies, and long duration combat.


Meggitt looked at 34 wars.  Six resulted in eviction of the losing group.  19 in property being gained.


Most surprisingly, this warfare led to NO CULTURAL evolution whatsoever.


114 – Productive war results in safer, and more prosperous societies.  Counter productive war destroys societies.


Turchin thinks war bad.  He is against pro-war folk like Madeline Albright and the idea of war as diplomacy by different means.


116 – When Turchin says war is ‘creative’ he means it has been one of the important selection forces for large-scale cooperative societies.  Internal war tends to be destructive and external, a force for destructive creation.


War is an evolutionary force of creation only when it results in some cultural traits outcompeting others.


One alternative to genocide is ‘culturicide’. 


117 – This takes place when there is forced assimilation.  But, many prefer to fight to the death rather than give up their culture. 


Ethnocide can also happen gradually and voluntarily.   Subjective folk often adopt imperial culture due to its high prestige.  Also, there is just imitation.


The traits of successful societies spread at the expense of the less successful, cooperative, less internally peaceful and less wealthy. 


118 – The Enga warfare was not creative because both sides had the same exact culture.


119 – The Enga had so many languages.  That meant cultural extinction was rare and it is a sign of weak competition between groups. 


This is found in tropical forests and mountainous areas.


The Great Eurasian Steppe and US Great Plains are ‘spread zones’. 


121 – Civilized soldiers tend to beat tribes only after they adopt their tactics. Their war is violent.  


122 – And civilized states beat tribes.  But, this is because their supply lines are stronger and reinforced. 


126 – He disagrees with Victor David Hanson.  VDH lauds infantry.  But, his Hopolite examples are nearly all from Greece. 


127 – The Persian armywas fighting far from home and the territory roughness favored Greece and the Persians didn’t care much about disunited, fierce Greece.


129 – The Hundred Year war was won because the French started to use cannons instead of axes. 


Being able to strike at a distance and move is ‘the human way of war.’






131 – Though their society was hierarchical, the British folk who first came to Hawaiian islands were shocked by the hierarchy and brutality.


132 – Gender inequality was also higher than found in other Polynesian islands.


“The first large-scale complex societies that arose after the adoption of agriculture – “archaic states” – were much, more unequal than either the societies of hunter-gatherers, or our own.”


133 – At the summit of the social hierarchy, a ruler could be “deified” – treated as a living god.  Finally, the ultimate form of discrimination was human sacrifice.”


Modern research verifies Captain King’s impression of the Hawaiins.


They had a “Kapu” taboo system wherein men and women could not eat together and their food was cooked separately.    


135 - They had slavery, divine kings and human sacrifice.


136 - But then a few thousand years after the adoption of agriculture, humans gave up on their fierce egalitarianism and accepted despotism.  Why ?  It is unlikely they did not do so voluntarily.


Hawaiian’s called their king the devourer of common people.   It took 3,000 years for hierarchy to happen in Hawaii. That is 200 generations. 


139 – Life as a free farmer is vastly more desirable.  The archaic state had to overcome opposition to come into existence.


140 – A farming community / society could stay egalitarian as long as it stayed in groups of hundreds or a few thousand at most.   After this hierarchy and inequality.  There is no exception to this rule.


99.8 percent of folk now live in countries with populations of 1 million or more.


If your hunting group gets bigger, you have more mouths to feed.  Getting larger does not help tribal folks.


In pre-industrial societies, economic production took place within family-sized units or relatively small workshops.


141 – Wittfogel thought society started to help with agricultural irrigation.  But, no. When officials interfere with irrigation, it gets worse.


142 – Information processing and economic gains make weak candidates for explaining the rise of archaic states.


The chiefs were involved with war and ritual; the commoners did the economy largely without them.


Some say the need for food in large ceremonies drove the emergence of the archaic state.


143 – But we have egalitarian reverse dominance in place to check such religious upstarts.


145 – And our brains, Turchin argues, evolved to detect and resist such manipulation. 


Peasant rebellions were as much a fact of life in complex hierarchical societies as peasant deference to their social betters.


146 – For tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of years, we had norms that stopped bullies.  Why would we give them up?


146 – The Soviet move to abolish marriage did not take. 


147 – “A cultural innovation that goes against a tenet of human nature – the need for a man and a woman to form a long-term bond – is very difficult to implement.”






149 – Early archaic state rulers were brutal.  


150 – The Assyrian royal propaganda texts are lists of beating rebels and other states and the horrors inflicted upon them.  Skins being stripped off, etc.


152 – How did the transition to horrid hierarchy happen?  Force.  Hawaiian folk were killed for not kneeling while the king ate – immediately.


There were norms, that make the prostrating automatic.


153 – “It therefore seems plausible that force has a role in maintaining the social order of archaic states, both directly and by providing the selective pressure for norm internalization.” But, we must also see how these situations arose in the first place. 


Oppenheimer said it started when one group of men conquered and dominated another. 


154 – Khaldun pointed out that nomadic pastorialists were uniquely predisposed by their way of life to becoming effective warriors.  This, he noted, eliminated any tribe that lacked internal solidarity.


He noted the 3 – 4 generation of conquest and state building and collapse.


155 – A problem with conquest theory is that conquest of one people by another is rarely a cause of primary state formation.  The drive for unification of Egypt was also internal.


And, small-scale egalitarian societies fight for many reasons.  But, subjugation or territory is rarely an aim.  Revenge and plunder were more common motives.


156 – But how did larger societies outcompete smaller ones despite the downside of despotism? 


War!  Ancient kings do not boast of trade or information exchange, they boast of war ad naseum.


Technology increased slowly and diffused rapidly.  The main way to win was to bring more warriors to the fight.


157 – You get more than a double in power for doubling soldiers.  When you knock out 100 of their 1000 and lose only 10, your advantage grows.


158 – This proportional increase is known as Lanchester’s Square law.


It is especially true in flat plains where people use projectiles. 


Beyond size, training, discipline, unit cohesion and overall coordination are important.  


159 – Defectors must be punished.  So in this situation, we’d expect to see an effective military hierarchy.  And, larger forces require more military discipline.


The Iron Law of Oligarchy says that no matter how democratic organizations start, they eventually, inevitably develop into oligarchies.   Power corrupts.


Robert Carneiro also has a conquest theory of history.  Turchin is different in a few details:


160 – One guy does not take over, he could be dispatched, it must be a group. 2) the transition must have been drawn out with fits and starts.  The chief not only had to grab the power but to do it legitimately.   New cultural modes of legitimization needed to evolve and this took time.   This is why there were thousands of years between the adoption of agriculture and primary states.


161 – He uses Germania as a case study.  They elected a war chief who had to hand over his power when the fighting ended.  


163 – Eventually some leaders used constant war on Rome’s border to take permanent chief status.  But when peace returned, they were dispatched as upstarts.  Fits and starts.


164 – Rome would also elect a dictator in times of War. This worked well for 500 years.  Then a general became dictator, Sulla, he retired and Caesar did it.  But he was Boehm style group killed.  


165 - But his son Augustus . . . After long civil war people asked for a dictator to keep peace. And he accompanied his ascension with modesty. 


166 – When the Germans sacked Rome, they had unified into a strong confederation or with hierarchy.


But what of ‘pristine’ archaic state formation?  With no nearby mega-power to unite against?


169 – In the past 10,000 years we had a hug rise and then fall of violence.   Turchin thinks war prior to this must have gone up and down: during good weather, populations would expand and fight; during bad weather, they’d hunker down.


170 – The standard story is that then agriculture allowed for larger populations, specialization and civilization.   This is the “bottom up” theory. 


The problem is that in several places we see the state and monumental architecture rise before agriculture.

Also, early on food was shared.  So if someone grew something others would think nothing of eating it.

Third, agriculture results in less food and poorer nutrition.  After the change to agriculture, people shrank.  Density lead to disease.


But agriculture did spread.  How, why?


Fewer resources meant conflict meant death.  Poverty led to intense warfare.  You needed culture to meld people into cohesive forces.  Monumental architecture, Stonehenge, etc, start.


174 – Not more food, but alliances were key.  They switch must happen all together, you cannot do foraging while others farm.  You need rights over your food.

Cultural group selection explains why.  Numbers led to wiping out stronger foragers. Individual fitness declined, but evolutionary group fitness increased.

This requires a ‘bundle of cultural traits’.


175 – This includes large-scale rituals, monuments rise prior to agriculture.  But, though agriculture is costly, it makes land more productive overall and can support bigger armies.  The military value Trumps cost. 

Hierarchy, class and increasing inequality arise.


177 – In small scale societies, if men hoarded, they were disrespected.  Big men did potlatch and couldn’t at any rate, order others around.


178 – But in areas where fighting was so intense that it could threaten over all survival,  warriors could get much power.  They could even get the powers of life and death to maintain discipline and punish traitors.


But, he needs legitimacy.  Thus it is easier to be a king-god than a king.  Military and religious hierarchy leader is necessary.  Think Alexander the great.


180 – Archaic states spread because they were more efficient military machines than chiefdoms or tribes.


Then war became a force for equality.  How?






182 – Ashoka’s edicts speak of justice. He ruled from (268 – 239 bc).


183 – The Mauryan Empire Ashoka inherited was a new kind of mega-empire.  Persia (550 – 330 bc) and Han (206be to 220) too.  These were huge and preached the dignity of human life.


At first, Ashoka expanded his territory like any other archaic state king-god.  Then he had a ‘change of heart’.


184 – He published a list of endangered species even.  He is like Plato’s philosopher king.   At this time, the Christian rulers are still a tad ruthless, discussing fear of the lord.


187 – There were bad kings, but the trend became that rulers were supposed to be good.   Why? Religion (+ war).


188 – A centralized military hierarchy has drawbacks when it comes to governing in times of peace.  A complex society cannot be held together by force alone.   And then inequality alienates lots of folks.   Early chiefs were often overthrown violently.

Dominance and hierarchy are different.  Hierarchy is legitimized.


189 – Religion, Robert Bellah thinks, served to reconcile hierarchy and the need for legitimacy.  And, the mix of religion and military likely started this early.  But, then the axial period (800 – 200 bc) consolidated it.


Herein we see monotheism sprout in the Middle East.  Zoastrianism and Judaism and Buddhism, the faith of Socrates.


190 - Prior to 500 bc, human sacrifice at a large scale was usually practiced. 

From 5,000 on chiefdoms had cycles of rise and collapse.   

191 - Around 500 bc we see an ethic of egalitarianism rise.


Bellah calls the leaders of such movements ‘renouncers’.  Aesthetics, they were.


191 – In Judaism we get denouncers.  Many of them are killed.


195 – War technology expanded so that the steppe horse types dominated for 2,500 years until gunpowder.


196 – It was hard for agricultural types to fight off nomadic raiders.


199 – The Persians were the first to integrate cavalry and horses.


200 – Most horses won’t charge a dense phalanx formation, pristling with spears. 


201 – But heavy infantry is not good offensively.  Large populations with more army recruits ad larger taxpaying bases and money for walls, dissuaded raiders.


That’s why with the beginning of the axial age we see large jumps in the size of states. They went up to 25 – 60 million folks.   Some actually hired steppe nomads to fight others way out in the hinterland.  Expansion led to defensive attacks on the borders.  But, expand they did. 


You also need coordination and cohesion. 


202 - Societies became more stable after the axial age got rolling.   There were fewer civil wars.


203 – A major weakness with mega-empires were their multitudes of ethnic groups. 


His example? The Spanish empire included Dutch, Germans, Aztecs, etc. 


“What was the glue that held this polyglot assemblage together?  It was Catholic Christianity. (And it was religious schism, picking up speed in the late 16th century, that tore the empire apart.)”


The Spanish had 2,000 years of post-axial cultural evolution to lean on.  Persia had Zoroastrianism; Ashoka, Buddhism; Han China Confucianism.  The Roman Empire converted to Christianity. 


The rise of these religions was momentous, but even more crucial was the shared egalitarian ethos.  Inequality erodes cooperation.


204 – But in the perilous new environment, states could not afford to crush their own populations like the Hawaiians had.  They needed large armies of commoners.


If you oppress your soldiers they won’t fight and it is silly to give them weapons.


205 – On several occasions when Rome was threatened by an invading army the plebians went on strike.  These “successions” began in 494 BC.


This pushed some reforms. But, the relief manly came as commoners shared the spoils of the now necessary empire expansion.


206 – Many see the Declaration of Independence as the origin of human rights.  But they really began in the axial age in regions where new forms of horse-based warfare spread. 


Europe was a late comer in this.  Sweden was pagan until the 12th century.


207 – Beyond egalitarianism, the axial religions went from tribal ethnically based religions to universal proselytizing ones.   These create huge communities involving many ethnic groups and languages.  It spread cooperation and held multiethnic empires together.


In tribes you knew people.  Now you needed a different mechanism to create trust.   This was facilitated by ‘big Gods’ who could see into your head.


208 – And if you’re bad they will punish you!  Once these religions spread, if you don’t believe people won’t do deals with you.  You may even be persecuted.  It is wise to believe.  It is wise to actually become a true believer.


Even kings worry about crossing all – powerful Gods.






211 – We went from primate hierarchy to reverse dominance.  This worked for tens of thousands of years until the adoption of agriculture and the first centralized powers allowed the return of alpha males.

This made an alpha sign.  But, with the axial age it becomes a Z.


212 - Ancestral primates are unequal, foraging bands are equal, archaic states are unequal, constitutional democracies are equal.


New ways of making ‘us’ expanded the circle of cooperation beyond one ethnolinguistic group.  Even so, he does not wish to belittle the Enlightenment.


213 – Big question: can the connection between war and social evolution ever be severed?


214 - Going forward he’ll take on Pinker’s “The Better Angels of our Nature”.    His constant decline of violence theme misses the archaic states.


The climactic chaos of the Pleistocene lasted from 2.6 million years ago until 10,000 bc.  This did not allow sustained population growth.   This allowed some clashes, but the harsh environment must have been the main agent of selection. 


Accumulating cultural information was important then.  Competition between societies was usually not direct.  Successful groups grew in size and split into daughter groups and colonized areas others couldn’t.


When the climactic instability was reduced, human populations grew and pread around the glob.   As the areas filled up, conflict happened.


Already the bow and spear and sling had exited for tens of thousands of years.  During the Pleistocene, they were mostly for hunting and slamming upstarts. 


215 - In regions that filled up, war became a way of life. 


In tribal times violence was against upstarts, then in time, against the powerless.


216 – There was a lot of violence in tribal times, but it was interpersonal.  


But what of Pinker’s explanations for the decline of war?


217 – Pinker’s explanations include, The Leviathan; Commerce; feminization; cosmopolitanism; and the ‘escalator of reason.’


218 – This hodgepodge is far from a unified theory.  Ultrasocieties needed institutions to suppress crime, but equally important were values that buttress institutions. 


In small societies and inclination to help relatives and friends is prosocial.  In large societies it is nepotism and cronyism.


219 – Violence drove the rise of ultrasociality and ultrasociety made violence decline.


220 – Pinker is too wedded to individualism.  Social / cultural forces count as they impact individual psychology.   His problem and that of other “evolutionary psychologists is their neglect of culture.”


221 – Commerce was important.  With large societies the frontlines get farther away and you need supplies and weapons and to get them to the front lines.  Material prowess is important, but it is important for war! 


222 – As for feminization.  Sure.  But, this is a sign of reduced hierarchy.  Feminization is not the engine.


Symbolically tagging groups was a big move in cooperation, it made larger groups possible.  But this came from greater inter-group conflict.


223 – Post axial we do get large ‘imagined communities.’  And, theoretically, sympathy could expand to all peoples.  But, as practiced, it was exclusionary.


224 – The elevator of reason is counter-factual.  Human sacrifice was stamped out by Christianity well before the ‘Age of Reason.’


225 – Some of these spread peacefully.  The Kievan Rus adopted Christianity in 988 cause paganism couldn’t bind large groups.


226 - “The world today is by no means free of war.  However, nonviolent forms of Destructive Creation have become more important than violent ones.”  In the last 500 years wealth based forms of competition have become more important: and the battle of ideas.  Will the democracy and free markets or the Beijing Consensus?


These ideas are all cultural elements.


227 – Look at monogamy.  Since agriculture polygamy was the norm.   But, monogamy spread via Christianity.   But in the 20th century it spread past Christian societies.  The main mechanism was ‘prestige-based cultural transmission.’  People followed the successful West.


Copy western  clothes does not help.  But, monogamous societies, research shows, reliably outcompete polygamous ones. 


It also increases equality between men and decreases gender inequality.


228 – Monogamy increases saving and economic productivity. 


This should not be surprising as reducing in-group competition makes for stronger competitors.


So, we have a practical suggestion for society: monogamy.


229 – “Increasingly, the nature of competition is now non-military.”


230 – If we want to make life better for people everywhere, we need to learn how to fix failed states and restart failed economies.  The key, as we have seen, is cooperation.  Where millions of strangers cooperate with each other, we see strong states and economies.  Where cooperation fails, so do states and economies.”


Last question: “How do we develop the science of cooperation?”


“What is important is not that one’s ideas are correct, but that they are productive.”


232 – Seshat: The Global History Databank is an effort to bring field’s info together.  This will give us a way to empirically test theories.