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663 pages, eBook Kindle
First published January 1, 2011
Human beings never existed in a presocial state. The idea that human beings at one time existed as isolated individuals, who interacted either through anarchic violence (Hobbes) or in pacific ignorance of one another (Rousseau), is not correct. Human beings as well as their primate ancestors always lived in kin-based social groups of varying sizes. Indeed, they lived in these social units for a sufficiently long period of time that the cognitive and emotional faculties needed to promote social cooperation evolved and became hardwired in their genetic endowments. This means that a rational-choice model of collective action, in which individuals calculate that they will be better off by cooperating with one another, vastly understates the degree of social cooperation that exists in human societies and misunderstands the motives that underlie it.
It is important to resist the temptation to reduce human motivation to an economic desire for resources. Violence in human history has often been perpetrated by people seeking not material wealth but recognition. Conflicts are carried on long beyond the point when they make economic sense. Recognition is sometimes related to material wealth, but at other times it comes at the expense of material wealth, and it is an unhelpful oversimplification to regard it as just another type of “utility.”