In tribal hunter gatherers, not getting one ’ s equal share of the food could lead to weakness and death. Being excluded from advantageous intra-tribe alliances meant increased danger and less mating opportunity. So ‘fairness’ and ‘equality’, defined as getting at least as much as everyone else in the tribe, was a core behavioral tenet. Not being listened to by the other tribe members was only one step from expulsion from the tribe. There was likely seldom anything analogous to the modern situation in which everyone might have adequate safety, nutrition, and opportunity, and such a cornucopia of possessions that they literally cannot be owned other than abstractly (i.e. stocks, bonds, and other arrangements of electrons). Thus, “fairness” has roots deep in our core brains and can trigger emotions such as few things can. This is an ancient drive; Capuchin monkeys, with whom we have had no common ancestor for tens of millions of years, were happy with a cucumber reward for a task. But they will scream and throw their cucumber reward if they see a monkey in the next cage receiving a grape, while they receive a cucumber as a reward. 82 Only for the most recent 1/30 th of our species history — essentially since the dawn of agriculture when we began to ‘store’ surplus - have humans grown hierarchies and the resulting wealth concentration and markers 83 . Our modern ‘inequalities’ are a product of thousands of iterations of applying market-based rules and incentives to vast amounts of cheap energy and natural resources. Modern socio-economic systems have effectively become large scale games tilted towards creation of small minorities of millionaires and then billionaires (and soon, trillionaires?). 84 As long as populations expect a rising tide to lift all boats, these inequalities are (barely) tolerated. But underneath this modern cultural overlay of economic opportunity reside deep feelings from our hunter gatherer past. Our ancestral DNA was not only one of equality with respect to access to resources, but aggressive equality . TaaL: I think that “ Capuchin Fairness ” reaction to the cucumber-grape experiment is the best window into human behavior; it explains so much, so simply. You ’ re driven to follow the gene agenda which creates unfairness, and you despise unfairness while pursuing relative advantage. And despite considering yourself self-aware, you don ’ t see the irony! (or humor).
My species long ago stopped trying to impose subjective fairness on an objective universe, and instead strived for empathy and kindness.
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