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For centuries, we have been telling ourselves a simple story about the origins of social inequality.
For most of their history, humans lived in tiny egalitarian bands of hunter-gatherers.
Mainstream social science now seems mobilized to reinforce this sense of hopelessness.
David Graeber and David Wengrow ask why the myth of 'agricultural revolution' remains so persistent, and argue that there is a whole lot more we can learn from our ancestors.
’) as their starting point, and assume the larger story will begin with some kind of fall from primordial innocence. There seems to be a consensus, among the intellectual and political classes, that levels of social inequality have spiralled out of control, and that most of the world’s problems result from this, in one way or another.
Simply framing the question this way means making a series of assumptions, that 1. Pointing this out is seen as a challenge to global power structures, but compare this to the way similar issues might have been discussed a generation earlier.
Still, even as researchers have gradually come to a consensus on such questions, they remain strangely reluctant to announce their findings to the public – or even scholars in other disciplines – let alone reflect on the larger political implications.
As a result, those writers who are reflecting on the ‘big questions’ of human history – Jared Diamond, Francis Fukuyama, Ian Morris, and others – still take Rousseau’s question (‘what is the origin of social inequality? Since the financial crash of 2008, of course, and the upheavals that followed, the ‘problem of social inequality’ has been at the centre of political debate.