Simplicity is Complicated: On the Effort of Creating and Maintaining Equality
A key point David Graeber and David Wengrow make in their mammoth work, The Dawn of Everything (2021), is that we humans are not by default predisposed to hierarchy or equality, but are first and foremost a socially creative species. In this essay, I take up Wengrow and Graeber’s notion that humans are ‘by default’ neither authoritarian nor egalitarian, but creative, noting that egalitarian forms of social organisation are complex, complicated, and require much work and effort. They are, in short, social and political achievements in their own right and manifestations of human social creativity. The work and effort that goes into an egalitarian social organisation is easily dismissed, and small-scale egalitarian societies, for example, are often referred to as ‘simple societies’ within popular discourse. In fact, during the launch of the Finnish translation of The Dawn of Everything in Helsinki on 23 March 2023, one of the panelists, a professor of global politics, insisted that societies have grown ‘more complex’ over time. This view has its parallel in the sphere of economics, such that commodity relations are viewed as the most sophisticated, elaborate, and complex forms of exchange, whilst modes such as sharing are viewed as the archaic baseline of exchange and, at worst, ‘simple’.
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